As a child in Montgomery, Ala., Hilly Blondheim preferred to stay inside cooking with the girls to heading out to the playground. After getting his culinary degree at The Art Institute of Atlanta and later studying in Vienna, Austria, Blondheim felt his passion was to teach children about food, which he did at the YMCA in Atlanta.
Hilly kids about his first name. “Since you asked, my given name is Hillard, but that is too stuffy!”
Now as co-founder of High Roller Sushi, we see a lot of his bounty without even realizing it. “When you see a chef at, say, the Westin Perimeter with the hotel name on his coat serving sushi, he’s probably one of ours. We sell the service and preparation of sushi to a variety of caterers, event facilities, stadiums, hotels, movies, and private home parties. Even Delta Airlines. We take the headache out of a tedious, very specialized cuisine. It’s very costly to do this from scratch. Using High Roller, they can make their own profit on top of us doing the work.”
After learning experiences in a luxury-brand hot chocolate company that went bust after Hurricane Katrina and the restaurant supply businesses, Hilly landed a job with Innovative Concepts, where he absorbed the food brokerage business and the use of test kitchens. “That job (for five years) made me successful. I got an unofficial Ph.D. in the world of food and the business of food. I had already learned how to cook, but now the emphasis was on how to move food through the system, … the plant, the trucks, to customers and the plate. I even learned on-the-job by opening The Mansion hotel in Atlanta.”
That background set him up for the eventual partnership starting in 2015 with another local Jewish man, Les Retter. “Our families are now extremely close,” Blondheim said. “Outside of my marriage, this is my greatest partnership. Our weaknesses make up for each other’s strengths. We all do our individual pieces, talk about it once a week or so, then allow everyone to function at their best. I am more sales, and Les is more of a numbers guy. We have a third partner also who is Malaysian and behind-the-scenes. After all, two white guys cannot roll sushi!”
When it comes to workers, High Roller has been fortunate to find success with its chefs, many of whom are from Burma. “We have about 20 part-timers, mostly male (but not that way by design),” he said. “They prepare from 9 p.m. to around 3 a.m., scheduled by their own choosing.”
High Roller has about 30 different rolls. Some of the mouthwatering preparations are fusion sushi such as the original creation, MacGyver Roll: Texas caviar, spicy tuna, mango and a jalapeño ring. [A Facebook post by High Roller shows it fed the cast and crew of “MacGyver” in December.] “If you can dream it, we can do it. I came up with torch-searing sugar-coated salmon at home when I was thinking about crème brulee, … imagining the flames producing a smoky burned flavor seeping onto the rice. And it’s fun to watch someone torch sushi as a presentation in person!” High Roller Sushi also has some side dishes, such as seaweed salad and edamame.
One of the most exciting roles for High Roller is in the kosher market. Now selling out of the Atlanta Kosher Commission-approved The Spicy Peach in Toco Hills, Blondheim hopes to have a live chef on hand at a counter after their current expansion is complete. “We absolutely have mashgiach supervision on site at our kitchen when we prepare kosher orders. … Do you think we should name this “Holy Roller Sushi or Chai Roller Sushi?”
A resident of Dunwoody, along with his wife Michele and two sons, 11, and 8, Blondheim uses Yelp to find off-the-beaten-track joints at which to experiment. “We like ‘Drive-Ins and Dives’ (referencing Guy Fieri’s Food Network series), for blindly choosing new places to eat.”
High Roller’s success is soaring as it just added important major clients such as Aramark and Levy (out of Chicago), which cater for the Georgia World Congress Center, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena.
Montgomery should be proud of its gingerly sushi king!