Oishii owner and manager Sheila Hargrove

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It’s been over four years since Umami — at the time a popular sushi spot in the Shops at Cameron Place area in Sanford — was wiped from the map by the same tornado that destroyed Lowe’s Home Improvement and damaged hundreds of other structures in 2011. A former manager of the late Asian bistro is ready to bring sushi back to Sanford with Oishii Sushi and Hibachi, set to open June 19 in the building formerly at 1952 South Horner Blvd. formerly occupied by Pizza Inn.

The Japanese word for “delicious,” Oishii is the brainchild of Sheila “Shi-Shi” Hargrove, who co-owns the restaurant with members of her family. Hargrove has worked the last four years as a dietary manager for an assisted living facility in Cary, but she’s ready to jump back into the restaurant business serving a city she says has missed what Umami had to offer since the storm.

“I know it’s hard introducing something like this in a smaller town, but based on how Umami did, we think we have a pretty good chance [to succeed],” Hargove said. “For the last four years, people here have been driving to Cary, Fayetteville or Southern Pines for sushi, and ever since we announced this business, we’ve been getting a lot of support from people in this town. I get maybe 40 calls a day and several Facebook messages asking when we’re going to open or whether people can make a reservation. Sanford is a very welcoming and supportive place.”

The former Pizza Inn has been completely transformed with new floors, new walls and mirrors and Japanese decor. The centerpiece of the 140-seat dining area is the granite-topped sushi bar, mostly hand-built by Hargrove’s husband Wayne. Construction began in December after a lengthy search for a building — Hargrove said they initially wanted a smaller building, but the former Oyster Bar and Ham’s were either too damaged or too unaccommodating for their business needs. Originally, Oishii was set to open in February, but “getting things right” proved to be a much more tedious process, Hargrove said.

“We thought it was going to be an easy flip, but do you know how hard it is to redo floors and walls? It’s hard,” she said. “But the wait proved to be a blessing in disguise. I kept telling my family you don’t want to jump into this too quickly. If you’re not ready, it becomes a hot mess.”

Take the original signage for instance. Hargrove said the original “Oishii” sign done in a Japanese font (with i’s that looked a little like t’s) was mistaken by many to read, “Oh Shit.”

“Well, it was an attention grabber,” Hargrove said with a laugh. “People would ask, ‘Did that say what I think it said?’ The county told us they had more than a few calls about it. I told them, ‘Hey, at least it means they’re paying attention.'”

Oishii will open to dinner only on June 19, and starting the next day, will open daily for lunch and dinner. The restaurant can be found online at oishiisanford.com and on Facebook.

— by Billy Liggett