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Sushi Chain Worth $82 Million Received $6 Million Federal Loan Meant for Small Businesses

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Kura Revolving Sushi Bar is a publicly traded company with $24 million in cash reserves, but still received PPP funds

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Kura Sushi, a conveyor belt restaurant chain, in Asakusa, Tokyo
Kura Sushi, a conveyor belt restaurant chain, in Asakusa, Tokyo
Photo by KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

While big restaurant chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse were dominating the headlines this past week after receiving funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the lesser known but relatively massive Irvine-based Kura Revolving Sushi Bar was able to quietly secure nearly $6 million from the program, which is part of the CARES Act federal stimulus package.

Kura Revolving Sushi Bar is a publicly traded company with 25 restaurants across the United States and a market value of $82 million as of April 21. Just this month, the company reported cash reserves of $24 million and no debt, according to a recent SEC filing. In addition, the chain obtained a $20 million loan from its Japanese parent company Kura Sushi, Inc., which has over 400 locations worldwide.

The PPP was originally designed to help businesses with fewer than 500 employees pay their payroll, utilities, rent, and other expenses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, which has closed all of its U.S. locations due to the crisis, doesn’t disclose its total number of employees. In a transcript of a recent earnings call with investors, Kura said it would use its $5.98 million from the PPP to pay employees, though the company also furloughed some workers. Kura still qualifies as a small business because the PPP applies to companies that don’t hire more than 500 employees per location.

Kura serves over 140 types of small prepared dishes and Japanese sushi on revolving belts. Diners typically order through tablets placed at each table and can reserve seats on its app. The chain has 11 locations in Southern California, including restaurants in Sawtelle, Japantown, Little Tokyo, Torrance, and Glendale that draw long waits during prime dining hours. Kura filed for an IPO in 2019 with plans to expand quickly across the United States; the planned expansion leaned on its technology and relatively low cost of operations. The company already has nine locations in Texas, as well as restaurants in Georgia, Washington State, Florida, and Michigan.

While companies like Kura, Shake Shack (which returned its $10 million this week after receiving widespread criticism), and Ruth’s Chris received their PPP loans, smaller businesses across Los Angeles still haven’t been able to secure money. Local coffee shop chain Go Get Em Tiger, which has 128 employees and nine locations across Los Angeles, still hasn’t received PPP funds. Neither has Bricia Lopez, who operates Guelaguetza restaurant in Koreatown, or Jeffrey Merrihue, who opened Heroic Italian in Santa Monica in late 2018 and employs 16 people.

Eater reached out to Kura Sushi USA, Inc, the company that operates Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, for comment and did not receive a response by the time of publication. As of last Thursday, the PPP already ran out of $350 billion in funds, though Congress is poised to approve another $350 billion for small business loans.

This story has been updated with additional details from Kura’s recent earnings call transcript.

Note: Kura Revolving Sushi Bar has no relation to former West Hollywood sushi restaurant Kura Fine Japanese Cuisine.