Shinya Hirakawa emigrated from Hiroshima, Japan, to the United States as a teenager just in time to fall in love with both ’90s hip-hop and Detroit techno music.
That love didn’t exactly pay the bills, though, and so in between making beats and DJ-ing around the city in his 20s, Hirakawa took to the restaurant industry, first serving his way through college at Wayne State University.
In 2006, his “big brother” and fellow Japanese-born DJ-slash-sushi chef Kaku Usui finally convinced Hirakawa to come work the sushi counter with him at Ronin in Royal Oak. Sushi has been a part of Hirakawa’s life ever since.
Hirakawa, a.k.a. DJ Crate Digga, stayed at Ronin for eight years, eventually leaving to run his own sushi pop-up inside the now-closed Craftwork in West Village. In 2016, Hirakawa joined the team at sushi stalwart Noble Fish, where he continues to work to this day.
Noble Fish is also where Hirakawa met his partner, Kelly Ardito, while she briefly worked the register at the popular Clawson spot at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ardito suffers from a range of food allergies. And so when Hirakawa mentioned he was interested in getting back into the pop-up game, it made sense to tailor the experience to others with similar issues.
“Lots of sushi is grain-based,” Hirakawa says. “Everything has soy sauce and they don’t make gluten-free products. So that’s kind of our thing: allergy friendly.”
The pair struck out with a sushi pop-up featuring temaki (hand rolls) at Motor City Wine in July 2021 as “Mobile Fish” — a play on Hirakawa’s long-time employer — but recently rebranded as Obi Sushi.
“A lot of this is kind of reflective of the food we make at home together,” Ardito says of Obi. “We have been eating dinner together every night since we started dating, way before doing a popup was ever a thought.”
To that end, Obi uses only tamari, which is gluten-free, instead of soy sauce, and all other sauces are created by Hirakawa with food allergies in mind.
With Ardito leaning on her photography and graphic design skills to spearhead the marketing and creative direction and Hirakawa bringing his Detroit-forged sushi skills to the fore, Obi set up residency at FRAMEbar for August 2022.
“The concept of Obi Sushi is to create a safe zone for anyone to enjoy sushi on their own terms,” Hirakawa told Ryan Patrick Hooper on WDET’s CultureShift.
Follow Obi Sushi on Instagram @obisushi.det.