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NYC’s hottest chain, Sushi by Bou, turns old utility rooms into elaborate 200-square-foot sushi bars

If you have an extra 200-square-feet of empty, windowless space laying around, Richie Romero might want to turn it into a sushi bar.

The 48-year-old restaurateur and nightlife impresario, and his partners, Mike Sinensky and Erika London, have turned tiny utility spaces into a growing empire of buzzy, bento-box-sized sushi bars

Customers love the offbeat locations — the backroom of a Chelsea coffee shop and florist, a basement storage area in a Times Square hotel, a mop closet in Chicago— and fun vibes. Their sushi bar business, known as Sushi by Bou, has nine locations in NYC and another 15 and counting across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

What had been a basement laundry room in Flatiron is now themed to disco, with Warhol-inspired art on the walls. Stephen Yang

“We make more money per square foot than Chipotle,” Romero told The Post. “We’re creating sushi speakeasies.”

Romero and his team trick out the small spaces with evocative lighting, rocking sound systems and bold decor. Free-flowing sake and tasty cocktails such as the Roku martini, made with Japanese gin, add to the fun.

In Nomad, a 200-square-foot former hotel concierge office is now a spot for ’90s hip hop and hand rolls, complete with a mural of Biggie Smalls and coasters fashioned from classic rap CD covers.

In Flatiron, a 400-square-foot space that was once a basement laundry room now has a groovy disco theme, with mirror balls aplenty.

The tiny sushi bars are also designed to take a smaller bite out of your wallet than more expansive raw fish temples.

In Times Square, the Sanctuary Hotel’s former box-storage room is where guests down their omakase dinners. Stephen Yang
This is what the glitzy Times Square sushi spot looked like before its makeover.

A 12-course omakase meal costs just $60, an offering that easily runs into the triple digits at most sushi places in the city. And the omakase takes 45 minutes, less than half as long as at traditional Japanese spots.

But, the good times and optional add-ons — such as Wagyu-uni or tuna toro hand rolls — can make for a longer night.  

Sushi by Bou co-founder Richie Romero cut his teeth working in the 1990s nightclub scene. Stephen Yang
After eating at the sushi bar, some customers, like Larry Mullen Jr. of U2, repair to this lounge area for cocktails and chat. Stephen Yang
Celebrities such as Uma Thurman have been known to slip behind the bar and mess around with the chefs’ blow torch. Stephen Yang

When U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr., 62, hit the Chelsea location about a year ago, he stayed until closing, chatting and drinking with Romero and the late nightclub legend Rocco Ancrola.

“Other celebrities such as Uma Thurman and Leonardo DiCaprio will go behind the bar to play with the blowtorch that we use for searing Wagyu and toro,” Romero said.

Additional bold-faced fans include Neil Patrick Harris, 50, who celebrated this past Valentine’s Day with husband David Burtka, 48, at the Flatiron location, and Bryan Cranston, 68, and his “Breaking Bad” co-star Aaron Paul, 44, who bartended with their Dos Hombres Mezcal at the Miami outpost.

Romero said some celebs come in for full meals, others pop in for the “Big Mac Challenge” — which involves a $22 hand roll with Wagyu, scallop, tuna toro and uni.

A spare room that was once used for concierge services in Nomad is now devoted to hip hop and sushi. Stephen Yang

“The challenge part is that we make everyone eat it in one bite,” he said.

Brody Jenner, the 41-year-old reality star and son of Caitlyn Jenner, went for the challenge when he visited the Chelsea sushi bar with DJ Devin Lucien.

A video captured the two of them chowing down on the oversized roll. From off camera, a voice could be heard goading Jenner, “One bite, bro. One bite. Don’t f–k it up …”

The one-time backroom of a coffee shop and flower store is now a sushi hotspot in Chelsea. Stephen Yang
Aaron Paul (left) and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame bartended with their Dos Hombres Mezcal at the Miami outpost of Sushi by Bou. GABRIEL CUESTA

With such clientele and viral moments, it’s no surprise that Romero cut his teeth working in the 1990s nightclub scene, at spots such as Limelight and the Tunnel.

More recently, he brought big-name DJs such as Little Jon and Diplo to do sets at the strip club Sapphire on East 60th Street. He currently has a hot nightspot in the form of Nebula and a secret lounge in the Meat Packing District.

“It’s called Hearsay,” said Romero. “There’s no sign outside or anything. If you know, you know. The location is word of mouth. We don’t even give out the exact building number.”

Chefs at Sushi By Bou are sometimes charged with carving up a 3,000 pound tune for hungry customers. Stephen Yang
The Big Mac, which customers are encouraged to eat in a single bite.
Brody Jenner (left) partied with Romero and DJ Devin Lucien at Sushi by Bou.

Though his sushi project has turned into a serious money maker, Romero and his partners hopped into it with limited expectations and a passion for the product.

“I’m obsessed with sushi,” said Romero. “I even have a dog named Sushi. And before I was married, I was going on dates and the omakase dinners were costing me more than my mortgage. We started this as a hobby. By next year, we should have 50 restaurants around the US.”

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