Maki-San founder starts new sushi brand Wooshi after 'incompatible views' on brand building

Singapore-based sushi place Wooshi has launched its first outlet. The brains behind the sushi place are none other than former co-founder and CEO of Maki-San Omar Marks, together with Raj Mulani, ex-director of Maki-San, and FreshCreations Holdings which owns Salad Stop! and HeyBo brands.

Marks, previously a copywriter with ad agency McCann, founded Maki-San in 2012 with his art director partner. However, six years down the line in 2018, Mulani and Marks decided to leave the sushi company after successfully launching 18 outlets across Singapore. According to Marks and Mulani, their departure was fueled partly due to “different and incompatible views” with partners on how to evolve the brand, and how to take it regional.

Marks said, "For me, the twin factors of creating a premium fast food brand is through strong branding and communication. I had familiarity of employing these in a sushi space, and I felt that there was a lot of it still unexplored. Mulani's and my departure from Maki-San felt a bit premature and hence we wanted to really go the distance this time and explore our ideas to the fullest."

He added that with the current venture, he is confident of the "invaluable backing" of its partners Fresh Creation Holdings, who have experience in executing successful brands in nine countries in the region and beyond. Hoping to take the brand regional, the duo told Marketing that the company’s short term goal is to grow Wooshi to three countries in the region. Besides Singapore, the team has wrapped up the development work for Indonesia, and is in midst of finalising the paperwork for another country in the region. 

While eyeing regional presence is a key business objective for the brand, sticking to local favourites and with a twist of local culture in whichever country it ventures into, is however just as important. The two added that Wooshi offers a range a signature rolls and bowls, as well as a make-your-own selection and "as a brand, Wooshi has been built to embrace collaboration and experimentation".

Building the brand

With clear ideas on building a brand regionally, Marks and Mulani recently launched a campaign on social media called “The Big Scream Off”. Netizens were encouraged to say the brand’s name as long as they could in a single breath to win prizes. 

scream poster

Due to the positive engagement and participation, Wooshi then moved on to create another contest on social media to take a step further and draw attention to its menu and recipes. Called “The Psycho Kim Challenge”, the challenge plays up the main ingredients of Wooshi’s Psycho Kim sushi rolls to give audiences a glimpse of the crazy concoctions at Wooshi, and also to expose the brand’s happy, irreverent vibe.

psycho kim1

pyscho kim2

“In a general context, the main reason behind the contests was to just add a bit of levity to an environment that is weighed down by the pandemic. We are all trying to get through this most difficult of situations, and hence this was just some comic relief for us as well as customers alike,” Marks and Mulani explained.

When asked if the team would engage influencers for its marketing, the founders said Singaporean-Canadian rapper Masia One came onboard for a friendly collaboration for The Psycho Kim Challenge, and the team had ran a beatboxer version with a local artist.The team also eyes collaborations whenever possible as Marks says collaborations "possess a restless energy and unpredictability", which in turn becomes the brand’s message. Marks added that Wooshi has also received an assortment of user generated content from netizens showing off their creativity too.

As part of its marketing plans, Wooshi aims to always come up with surprising campaigns and activations to standout from the clutter - starting with its own products.  “The process of creating unconventional recipes led us to giving them unusual names such as Fiery Fatima, Two-Face Tina and Angry Lee. Not only has this helped us get eyeballs (and a few raised eyebrows) on our menu, but is has also become inspiration for artists and designers to create their interpretations of our menu,” the two said, adding:

For us, this kind of customised content is gold. It is very personal in its creation, but very universal in its enjoyment.

"And that is quintessentially Wooshi. We can then utilise all the media channels available at any point, including influencers and KOLs, to amplify this message,” the founders said.

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Branding in packaging

The duo also told Marketing that they were eager to move away from a closed system of ideating and executing the business. Wooshi also brought on board a brand team to guide its venture and decided very early on not to have any corporate colours - not even for the logo.

Currently the store at Causeway Point Woodlands boasts an orange-themed look to complement Sydney-based artist Mike Watt’s artwork. According to Marks and Mulani, the colours and themes would change as the medium or those Wooshi partnered with, demanded.

wooshi covers

While one might argue that the offerings and packaging may resemble Maki-San to a certain extent, Marks and Mulani said the team actually invited artists – local and international – to put their own spin on its packaging, store design and communication. About five different street and graphic artists from the region were used to develop the packaging, with all given complete freedom to interpret Wooshi as they choose in a pop art space. The team ended up with skulls, scrap metal, roses, Eye People, groovy lines, mad characters, and even multiple-exposure photography on its packaging as a result of these collaborations.

“It is something we will always involve artists in, and hence they will have as much creative ownership of the packs as we would. We are already developing new versions with artists in Melbourne and Bangalore. We will also start looking at evolving the form factor of the packaging soon,” both Marks and Mulani added.