Opening Bell

Food for Good

Seattle's Conscious Hospitality is about planet, people and, of course, profit

Conscious Hospitality cofounders Danny Brawer, left, and Norman Wu have been friends since fourth grade.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

While living in Los Angeles several years ago, Norman Wu got caught up in the burgeoning poke craze and dined on the diced raw fish several times each week.

Then, the headhunting firm he and his business partner, Danny Brawer, had launched in 2014 was acquired. The two young entrepreneurs — who met as fourth graders on Mercer Island — saw an opportunity to move back to Seattle and start another business.

Today, they are the founders and principals of Seattle-based Conscious Hospitality Group, owner of a portfolio of restaurants called Sugo, Matcha Magic, and Just Poké that focus on the bigger picture of a healthy planet and healthy living.

The friends charged ahead despite knowing absolutely nothing about the restaurant industry.

“Poke was getting really popular, and we were young and foolish enough to come into the food industry without having been chefs or gone to culinary school,” Wu says. “And I always tell people this, but I think that’s one of our biggest advantages.”

Just Poké just opened its 28th location. Matcha Magic, which was founded by Wu’s fiancée and now wife, Rachel Barnecut, has already built a loyal following since opening last year. Sugo, which offers a unique, hand-roll sushi dining experience, opened a year ago in Pike Place Market. A second location will follow in June.

Food, though, is just part of the mission. Conscious Hospitality Group is laser focused on sustainability, inclusion, diversity, and purpose. Wu, who is particularly interested in climate change, says the company pays its employees 25% more than the industry average and has offered health care from day one.

It contributes to nonprofits aligned with its mission and sources only from sustainability-certified vendors. It buys from local farms or produce vendors “as often as possible” and its matcha — a specially-grown, powdered green tea high in antioxidants — from a small family farm in Japan.

Conscious Hospitality has also become a stadium favorite. It was named best new restaurant in T-Mobile Park and was invited to provide Kraken bento and Sugo sushi sets inside Climate Pledge Arena. It was a conscious marketing decision designed to introduce the concept to new audiences, though Wu admits it’s not as profitable as operating a stand-alone restaurant.

Wu credits his parents for instilling both his work ethic and love of food. His father came to the United States from China in 1985 with only $50 in his pocket and a backpack full of beef jerky. His parents also introduced Wu and his brother to a variety of different cuisines.

“Their whole mentality was ‘hey, you don’t have to love it, but you have to try everything,’” he recalls. “I hate using the term foodie because it’s so overused, but they built the foundation.”

Follow Us