Sumo & Sushi is hitting NYC’s PlayStation Theater this Saturday and Sunday (March 3rd and 4th), and is exactly what it sounds like – an interactive day of sumo wrestling and Japanese food, aka the greatest combination of all time. Three world-famous sumo wrestlers will compete against each other round robin style, and several brave guests will have the chance to actually take them on at the end of the program. Don’t worry, only the pros will be made to wear mawashis, aka sumo belts. Trust me, I asked Sam Minkoff of SE Productions, the company putting all of this on with USA Sumo. I also asked him to give me some details about the format of the event, what you can expect to eat when you’re there, how many airplane seats it takes to accommodate a 600-pound man and MORE, so get the 411 below, and then be sure to grab tickets before they’re all sold out!
So I guess we’ll start with the obvious question, which is how you came up with this idea in the first place. It’s a great concept, I just haven’t seen too much else that’s like it!
Yeah! As a production company based in Seattle, we shoot to create a mix of different culinary experiences and events. Sumo & Sushi is one example (probably my favorite) of that. We have the opportunity to work with an organization called USA Sumo, which is focused on bringing sumo culture and education about the sport to the US; we work with them to get the wrestlers, and then add our own culinary flare to it. We do another event called Bacon, Eggs and Kegs, too. Basically as many combos of food, drink and activities that we can come up with, we try to execute!
And what is the process like of getting the sumo wrestlers to participate?
The sumo wrestlers are acquired in partnership with USA Sumo. It started off by forming a really solid working relationship with the director of that organization, kind of building out the sumo portion of the show with him. His name is Andrew Freund, and Andrew has a lot of knowledge on the sport of sumo; he’s traveled to Japan quite a bit, and he’s really networked with these sumo wrestlers. He almost acts as an agent to facilitate their involvement in events across the country, and in addition, he also does an event with them called the US Sumo Open in California. It features world champion sumo wrestlers, and it’s a really fun exhibition style kind of event.
What are the logistics like to get these guys to NYC?
So a lot of these guys have had their pro sumo experience several years ago, and they’ve relocated to the US. If you’re in the Japanese sumo circuit, these kinds of events aren’t really permitted. But these guys have had their time in the pro circuit, particularly Byamba and Yama in Japan, and then they came over to the US to pursue opportunities like this. A lot of them travel all over the world all the time, but for this event, some of the guys are coming out of California, and Byamba’s coming from Chicago in this case. It’s always interesting to book travel, because we have to book them two seats each. That’s always an interesting conversation with the airline.
Oh my god I bet. I honestly didn’t realize it was so huge globally. I thought it was sort of just relegated to Japan, but you guys will have one wrestler from Mongolia, another from Egypt…
Exactly, yeah. We’ve got a Japanese man called Yama, who’s the heaviest Japanese man in the entire world, which is pretty fun. Then we’ve got Byamba of Mongolia, who’s kind of the friendly face of Sumo & Sushi; he’s been in the Geico commercials, so a lot of folks recognize him as the sumo wrestler on ice skates and get really excited about that. Then Ramy is an Egyptian, African world champion sumo wrestler who’s a really great competitor as well. And so the three of them come together to create this show and this experience, and Andrew MCs the entire thing to help translate and offer narration to the process, and to educate the audience on their diet, and the moves of sumo, the culture and everything in between.
Yeah, tell me a little more about the format of the show. What’s that going to look like?
Great question. Essentially what happens is that as soon as the guests are seated, the first fifteen or twenty minutes is spent with Andrew explaining the sport, the techniques and the culture. Then he brings out the sumo wrestlers with a bunch of fanfare and an introduction, and they demonstrate some of the typical sumo moves. Yama, for example, can do a full split. Then there’s an intermission that includes food for any of the guests who purchased tickets that include it, and after the intermission there’s a series of live matches where the wrestlers rotate in a round robin style sumo wrestling experience. Following that is another brief intermission, and then the fun part is that the guests actually have the opportunity to ask the sumo wrestlers anything in the Q+A, with Andrew translating as necessary. There are also about six guests per session that brave our Get In The Ring package; they actually have the opportunity to participate in a one-on-one sumo match with any of the three sumo wrestlers, so that’s how the event culminates at the end. It’s always really, really entertaining.
So do the audience members that choose to do that have to wear mawashis?! Those belts?!
[Laughs] We definitely considered putting the audience in a mawashi, but no, they stay in their plain clothes.
That’s a relief! And tell me more about the culinary aspect. Who’ve you partnered up with in NYC?
In New York we’ve partnered with Sushi Tokyo to do the majority of the bento boxes and serve them to the guests. They’ll be served miso soup and edamame as soon as they’re seated, and then at that first intermission they’ll receive a bento box that’s an assortment of six pieces of sushi (a spicy tuna, salmon roll and california roll, and then three pieces of nigiri), plus there’s a chef’s salad, teriyaki chicken and a dessert. (Of course a vegetarian option is available as well for guests who elect to do that ahead of time.) And for the front row guests and the VIP guests we’ve got some surprises up our sleeve. We’re working with some really fun chefs and restaurants in the city to deliver a value add for those packages.
Cool. And before I let you go, I have to ask – have you ever tried to fight one of these guys?
[Laughs] That’s a great question. Ironically enough, I’ve never gotten in the ring, but members of our team have. Everyone thinks they can take them, but Sarah, one of our team members who got in the ring, described it as hitting a brick wall. She ran at him full force, and there was zero movement from the sumo wrestler. My caterer also loves trying to challenge Andrew, who’s the emcee and director of USA Sumo. He’s not what you’d imagine to be a big sumo wrestler, but he’s actually really, really good at sumo. It’s always entertaining when someone tries to take on the emcee, because Andrew is equally talented and competitive in the ring!