ORYZA Asian Grill is beginning to find its footing along Court Street.
General Manager Brian Golde said the decision to open after students left for the summer was driven by the timeline needed to adequately train staff. The tradeoff, Golde said, was a delay in desired sales.
Without students, revenue lagged. Still, Golde preferred it to the alternative: a sloppy, rushed opening.
“I think opening before graduation weekend would have been a mistake,” Golde said. “Of course, sales would have been great, and the money would have been good, which is all awesome, but I feel like we would have given a bad experience to a lot of people.”
ORYZA and the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the restaurant’s opening. Those who visited ORYZA in its first few hours of operation received free food as a promotion.
Customer feedback has been positive, Golde said, especially after tens of thousands of OU students returned to Athens in August.
Golde said sales have tripled since ORYZA’s opening through the first few weeks of the fall semester, though he doesn’t have exact figures to support his estimate. Reliable data likely won’t be available until October, he said.
“I was hoping (for a) line out the door, (for) people to come check out the new place, but it didn't happen exactly like that,” Golde said. “It takes a little bit of time, but I think we're on the right path.”
Golde said ORYZA’s business model matches the needs of a college student. When the restaurant’s owners were looking for expansion opportunities, they identified Athens as a prime target.
“We always say it's kind of got four things that are perfect for a college town: it's inexpensive, it's fast, it's healthy and it's a lot of food,” he said.
Walker Feick, a junior studying marketing, has eaten at ORYZA three times. As a person who enjoys Asian cuisine, Feick said the addition of ORYZA to Court Street caught his attention.
“I walked by, and I'm looking at all the other places, and I've had them all pretty much, so I just keep coming back here,” Feick said. “It's good, and it's relatively cheap compared to other options.”
Feick compared ORYZA to other restaurants in Athens with similar business models and cuisines — Chipotle, Ginger Asian Kitchen and Mr. Hibachi, among others — and said he pays less and gets more in his meal at ORYZA.
Recent OU graduate Audrey Bohyer shared Feick’s sentiments and said she chooses to eat at ORYZA because of its portions and organic ingredients. She said one order is enough to feed her three times, which incentivizes her to visit every two weeks or so.
“I sound like a salesman, but I love this place,” Bohyer said.
ORYZA offers three types of meals: bowls, salads and wraps. Customers can then choose from white rice, red rice and noodles as bases.
The price of dishes is almost entirely dependent on the protein customers want. Chicken and spicy chicken cost $9.95 each, and steak and black pepper shrimp cost $10.45 each. Organic tofu costs $8.95, and vegetables cost $7.95.
After choosing a protein, customers are able to pick three vegetables, with options like sauteed vegetables, Asian green beans, charred corn and kale on the menu. ORYZA also offers a variety of sauces.
Add-ons, like chips and beverages, range in price from $2.45 to $4.95.