Hapa chefs (photo by Lori DeBoer)

The highlight of a visit — in addition to the food — is watching the chefs work their magic.

BY JULES MARIE

In 1999, Mark Van Grack opened Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar inside the Fox Theatre on the Hill. Not only was it his first foray into sushi, there were only a few sushi restaurants
in Boulder at the time. Hapa subsequently relocated in 2004, which was “such a painful decision,” Van Grack told the local newspaper at the time.

But the move helped launch Hapa into preeminence in the world of sushi, and the restaurant now has four locations in Denver and Boulder, including one on the Pearl Street Mall. The Hapa group also owns the fast-casual Motomaki.

“We’re very customer oriented and that’s been one key to our success,” says Jessica Brookhart, Hapa’s director of operations. “We take feedback seriously. We’ve added menu items while discontinuing others, we’ve changed names and added ingredients.” Another feedback positive: All of Hapa’s ingredients are sustainably sourced.

Hapa’s outdoor dining patio is a fun spot for sushi and people watching on Pearl Street.

Van Grack moved to Boulder from Washington, D.C., in the ’90s. With a fashion background, he opened three high-end shoe stores: Snyder’s Shoes. He decided to tackle sushi in 1999, when he opened Hapa.

“Hapa is a Hawaiian word that means ‘a blend of cultures,’” Brookhart explains. “Several of our chefs are from Hawaii or Japan, as is our management, and some of us are Hapa or
Japanese or have Hapa children.”

Hapa soon made a splash, along with a few waves. “Hapa is an edgier brand,” Brookhart says, “so we offer a Multiple Orgasm roll (tempura salmon and cream cheese fried and broiled in spicy Japanese aioli), a 69 roll and a G-Spot specialty cocktail. We like getting
people’s attention; attention is good!”

For his part, Van Grack received national attention for advertisements that once showed a menu pairing food with marijuana strains. And let’s not forget the time he imprinted 100 pairs of orange briefs and thongs for Boulder’s Naked Pumpkin Run with his restaurant’s logo and the words “Run Responsibly.” He ran ads on Denver kiosks quoting President Donald Trump’s tweets, which were subsequently pulled by the Downtown Denver Partnership. The restaurant also paired screenshots of Trump tweets with its logo and the slogan, “Eat well before it all ends!”

Rising to the Top

Hapa’s Top Chef competition resulted in the addition of 12 new menu items including the
Aspen Roll, a spicy California roll wrapped in shrimp and drizzled with garlic sake butter. The Pacific Isle roll features spicy tuna, tempura, asparagus and jalapeño, topped with albacore tuna, cilantro and chili ponzu. The Vegetable Dragon Roll is a sweet blend of cucumber, avocado and tempura sweet potato, topped with broiled miso eggplant, sweet
soy and tempura crunch.

New sashimi items include the Hawaiian Kanpachi Crudo— seven pieces of thinly sliced kanpachi sashimi with kimchi furikake, chive oil, ponzu, jalapeño and mandarin oranges. The Poke Dinner and Seared Poke Dinner are new Hawaiian-inspired entrées featuring a choice of fresh fish tossed with onions, scallions, ginger, sesame seeds and a house-made poke sauce.

The Aspen Roll is a popular menu item at the Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar in downtown Boulder. (photo courtesy Hapa Grill & Saki Bar)

Hapa gives credence to food allergies and sensitivities, with a gluten-free menu and preparation practices to ensure ingredients don’t mingle, including separate cutting boards and cutlery for ingredients. Kids have a say in their menu as well. Today, patrons
return with their kids because they remember Hapa delicacies they ate as children. “We see people we served 10 and 15 years ago come in with their families,” Brookhart says, to sample Remy’s Teriyaki Beef, Austin’s PB&J roll and other items on the children’s menu.

Couples and families often share meals “family-style,” giving Hapa the chance to plop a large “surfboard” of items in the middle of their tables.

Be Happy!

Daily happy hour features discounted beverages and appetizers, and Colorado’s largest sake menu with hot and chilled options and refreshing fruit-infused sakes.

Hapa encourages friends and families to greet, meet and eat Asian-Pacific style. As Brookhart says, “We think food is better shared.”

Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar (303-473-4730, 1117 Pearl St., www.hapasushi.com, visit website for Denver locations) is open daily Sunday-Wednesday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday from 11 a.m.-midnight. Happy Hour is 2:30-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, with late-night happy hour from 10 p.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday.