Julia O'Malley: Everybody's singing it

Julia O'Malley
Clyde and Esther Kim and their 15 month old daughter Ruby pose at the sushi bar of their Dish Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant on August 14, 2013. Clyde Kim was one of the architects of Dish's jingle. Maneki-neko, lucky cats, sit on the counter of the sushi bar.
Bob Hallinen
Esther and Clyde Kim and their 15 month old daughter Ruby pose at the sushi bar of their Dish Sushi Bar and Japanese Restaurant on August 14, 2013.
Bob Hallinen

You know when your brain goes quiet for a second and then, as if broadcast from a radio station located in your subconscious, a song starts playing in your head? Not necessarily a good song, either. "Total Eclipse of the Heart" maybe. Or "Poker Face." And that song keeps playing. In the shower. In the car. In the meeting with your boss.

The last couple of weeks, that song for me has been a local R&B jingle for a sushi restaurant. If you listen regularly to any popular music station on the FM dial, then you know exactly what I am talking about. In fact you are probably singing it now. Because you can't stop it.

"Everybody come to The Dish/There's never been a spot like this/It's The Dish/The Di-ish/The Dish."

The singing is home-spun. The lyrics, corny. (Never has miso soup been given such silky R. Kelly treatment.) But it has the kind of local jingle power that tattooed "Cal Worthington and his dog Spot" on the brains of a generation. Currently, one line from the jingle, "enjoy a sa-kay-tini at the bar, " is haunting my brain like a bad decision.

The first step in confronting a song in your head is to admit you are powerless to fight it. The second step, in my case, was to go to the jingle's source. I needed to understand it.

I found Clyde Kim, co-owner of The Dish, at a quiet table in his restaurant after lunchtime a couple of weeks ago. The Dish is a modern, well lit place, with red and black interior with a big screen TV over the bar. It's located -- in classic Anchorage style -- in a strip mall on International Airport Road next to a party store, a bilingual pre-school and a mosque.

Clyde and his wife, Esther, both in their 30s, bought the place in 2008. Clyde has sushi in his DNA. His parents owned Sushi Garden and he grew up in the restaurant. After high school, he studied business management in New York City and lived there for seven years. Then he came back to Alaska to help out his parents, who were getting ready to retire. That's when he decided to buy and make over a sleepy conveyor belt sushi restaurant/piano/karaoke bar called Sushi King.

He wanted to make restaurant that felt like New York, a second-generation sushi place different from the restaurant where he was raised. Growing up, he said, there were half a dozen sushi spots in Anchorage. Now there are close to 30. To succeed with all that competition, a restaurant has to have a brand.

Since it opened, The Dish has become the center of its own scene. You can always find your usual sushi eaters, couples and families with kids, but there is a fashionable, youngish, multi-ethnic, hip-hop crowd that tends to appear at The Dish at night. Especially for "Sushi Beats" a semi-regular event when a DJ spins records in the dining room.

The jingle was an essential part of Kim's plan to appeal to that crowd. It was meant to have a sense of humor and a local feel, to reference music that his customers listen to. Kim and his childhood friend, aspiring R&B singer Chris "Kizzy" Fields, sketched out the lyrics after closing one night just before Sushi King became The Dish. Fields recorded it himself.

"I think he might have just done it in his closet or something," Kim said.

Fields played it for Kim. Immediately, it got stuck in Kim's head.

"It was exactly what I was looking for," he said.

That first take became The Dish anthem. There was no editing. Next stop for the jingle was with Julia and Vasco Vea, creative directors at William Fraser Advertising, who were also regulars. They placed the radio spots. The buzz was immediate.

"Everyone was singing it to me," Kim said. "Every time I was out with a Dish shirt on, people where singing the song. It just clicked."

Radio listeners wrote emails. They called about it. Some of them loved it. Some of them hated it. Some wanted to buy it on iTunes. Lots of them came to The Dish.

"People told me, 'Well, I hate that commercial but we have to come here because the kids keep singing it," Kim said.

The Veas took the concept and used it to develop a suite of ads. There are multiple more produced versions of the jingle (with more beats and a back-up singer), and some television spots. Those videos are local commercial gold with the spoofy flavor of "Saturday Night Live" skits. In one, a woman gets increasingly excited as she sips a sake-tini (that is a martini made with sake). Somewhere outside of the frame, a breeze blows her hair alluringly. Another viral video that has been bouncing around Facebook is modeled after the MTV show "Cribs," Kim meets the camera at the door of the restaurant in a monogrammed bathrobe.

"Sup?" he says.

Then he gives a restaurant tour. There's the sushi chefs throwing peace signs, the wall of Anchorage Press "Best Sushi" plaques (four years running) and the grand piano from the Sushi King days, which Kim can't play. He demonstrates the restaurant's gong.

"Every dope sushi spot needs a gong like this," he says. "Straight traditional gong from China! What's up?!"


I told him later that was my favorite part.

"You know what? That's all freestyle too," he said. "No scripts."

People tell him he's a natural. And he is. He knows what the carpet store owner who dresses in a chicken suit knows and the used car salesman who embraces a black bear knows.

"As long as it sticks in people's minds and keeps people coming through the door," he said. "Nothing else matters."

Julia O'Malley writes a regular column. Reach her by phone at 257-4591, email her at jomalley@adn.com, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @adn_jomalley.


Julia O'Malley
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