Sushi Row is a very chill new downtown spot that delivers excellent sushi, elegant cocktails, and that big-city feeling. It’s the new kid, nestled among several legendary Colorado Springs locations—Acacia Park, Poor Richard’s, and Tony’s to name a few—and has further elevated one of the most beloved blocks downtown.
Patio seating is set up and back slightly from the street, beneath mature trees, and gives patrons a neat view of the corner of Tejon and Platte. Inside seating is gorgeous, warm, and inviting without feeling pretentious. It’s already gained a reputation as the best place in town for a romantic date. And for owners Jason Wallenta and Riley O’Brien, Sushi Row is a dream come true.
Along with Jason’s brother Kris, the couple has started several restaurants since 2015. There’s White Pie, Dos Dos, and Dos Santos here in Colorado Springs, the original White Pie and Dos Santos in Denver, and another Dos Santos location in Castle Rock. In each case, their goal was simply to create something cool that people would enjoy.
Jason, Kris, and Riley opened White Pie, Dos Santos, and Dos Dos as a team. But Sushi Row was a little different. Jason and Riley love sushi, and when they first met they would go on dates to sushi restaurants they loved—one in particular in Denver where their chef, Zaya, was working at the time. When they decided to open Sushi Row they invited Zaya to join them in the business, and he accepted.
“I would just say Sushi Row is great, special. It’s interesting. It’s fun,” Jason says. “Our chef, Zaya, is fabulous. He’s so talented. He is a genius. He could be in L.A., he could be in New York, he is that special.”
Jason and Kris grew up on the East Coast in a half-Italian, half-Mexican, and 100% restaurant family. In other words, these guys know what’s good. Jason says they’ve always had a passion for food and restaurants, and when they moved to Denver they sought that same familiar feeling.
Jason’s first job was as a busboy, and he moved to bar-back, food runner, and dishwasher. Riley’s experience was similar. “We’ve done it all, from our first jobs,” Jason said. “Kris and I grew up going to restaurants. My mother’s an amazing Mexican cook and my dad’s an amazing Italian cook. Food’s always been a huge part of our lives.”
He met Riley on a scouting trip to Denver. She was working at a restaurant, and Jason got a job there. “It was a little ulterior motive,” he says, smiling. “I killed two birds with one stone. And our friendship and relationship blossomed, and I sold her on our dream.” Jason, Kris, and Riley became an incredible business team, a self-proclaimed “three-headed monster.” Riley handles financial work, design work, and a lot more.
“She’s just also super brilliant with numbers, and sees things that Kris and I don’t see,” Jason says. “She wears several hats, on top of the fact that she’s a mother. We have two children who have also been born and raised in these restaurants. They took their first steps in our restaurants.”
“We would always go out on dates to these little small restaurants in the city that, you know, reminded me of growing up on the East Coast. And we just love it to always feel bustling, and always feel warm.”
Riley said that family feeling was the inspiration for all the businesses they started. “Our basic vibe behind all the restaurants is creating a space that we want to go to. We want that bustling energy. It’s about the experience. We want people to come to our places and get away from their lives. For an hour, hour and a half, they are transported to this safe space where it’s fun and they forget about everything else. It’s just this good vibe, good energy, good music.”
She smiles brightly as she recalls her career path in the restaurant industry. “Restaurant work was always like, you know, what you do until you find your real job. And then I just kind of kept falling back into it. And then one day I was like, ‘Do I need to have a real job? This is fun!’ You know what I mean? If you can do what you love and then call that work, that’s the dream.” Jason clearly feels the same way, and there’s an infectious energy between them as they discuss their life together.
“We love it,” Jason says. “We work, I would say, 80–90 hours a week, but we don’t feel like we’re working. We’re lucky. We live together. We work together. We share everything. We vacation together. We do everything together. Riley and I have a very strong and amazing relationship because she’s my best friend, and we literally do everything together, which is crazy. I’m surprised she’s not sick of me yet. But it’s great. We don’t feel like we’re working.”
Their authenticity is unstudied. They’re one of those great couples. The love is real. And the purpose is real. Jason and Riley are not Colorado Springs natives, but they have communicated in words as well as actions that they’re committed to staying here.
“I think downtown has a lot of potential,” Jason said. “I know that Colorado Springs is expanding very, very wide. You have your north, you have your east, you have all these different areas that I’m sure a lot of money is going into, but we’re downtown people. We’re going to invest here.”
The vision they have for the community is to see more collaboration. “Let’s make this a bustling downtown for all businesses,” Riley said. “For restaurants, for retail, for everybody. We’re all fighting the same battles.”
Their staff and employees are very important to them as well, and, unsurprisingly, treated like family.
“Everything that we do is a labor of love,” Riley says. “We always tell our employees when they’re welcoming people in, ‘You’re welcoming your mom in for dinner, and treat them as such. Take pride in the place that you work and take pride in every single person that comes in here.’ We’d go out of our way and do anything for any of the people who work here. I mean, truly. Jason’s dad works for us. We are family-run through and through.” That love extends to their customers.
“I think our restaurants are our community,” Jason says. “You go there to enjoy, to share, to love, to laugh, to cry. You go there for an experience. All our restaurants are different experiences: family, extended family, date night. I think that’s what makes our restaurants special is that we treat them like an extension of our kitchen, an extension of our home. We want everyone to come break bread and enjoy themselves and get away.”