Now Reading
Dragonfly Sushi: Crafter of Meaningful Connections & Artful Flavors

Dragonfly Sushi: Crafter of Meaningful Connections & Artful Flavors

Dragonfly Sushi & Sake is well known for their sophisticated twist on Izakaya, Japanese tapas-style dining. Their fresh, globally inspired menu of savory sushi and sashimi has made them a staple in the Greater Gainesville  community. The Omakase program at the bar offers seasonal, contemporary cocktails that garner rave reviews. What loyal patrons may not be aware of, however, are the carefully crafted values woven into the fabric of the restaurant’s culture.

In the hour before one of Gainesville’s most popular restaurants is scheduled to open its doors to guests, most would expect the staff to be rushing  around setting tables, quickly preparing the kitchen and robotically stocking the bar. Instead, at Dragonfly Sushi & Sake, employees gather around for a family meal.

The chefs prepare dishes to nourish the staff. The team uses these meaningful meals to recognize each other and exchange personal stories before the doors open to the public. Soon after, the guests share special moments of their own with family and friends over artistically prepared food and eclectic, spirited drinks.

Owners Hiro Leung and Song Kim created this daily pre-shift tradition to support their restaurant’s central mission, rooted in Japanese culture. Crafting meaningful connections is the foundation of his 25-year-old business and a principle that is based on a life-changing childhood lesson.


Meaningful Connections

Growing up in Hong Kong and Japan, Leung’s parents used their modest savings for their children to attend private school. He quickly noticed his wealthy classmates lived in mansions with butlers, while his family lived in a factory. An emotional conversation with his father instilled the value of relationships over material possessions. Forty years later, it remains an intrinsic force for his personal and professional life.

“My father helped me understand that no matter what you have it’s really about the meaningful connections,” Leung said. “As I built my restaurant, I made sure it’s always been about the wealth of relationships.”

As Leung set out to create his business, he did so with this mission in mind, starting with his team. As a dedicated mentor and teacher to his 200 employees, he helps young employees learn how to succeed.

“Expanding talent” is one of Dragonfly’s cultural values. For the married father of three, this means courageously seeking to nurture those who embody “Bushido,” a moral code of conduct centered on integrity and professionalism. Team members that embrace these values are promoted.

Expanding Talent

In an industry riddled with turnover, Dragonfly has many longtime employees. Front of House Manager Ashley Faucette was a University of Florida student when she joined the company as a cashier for their Rolls n’ Bowls location in 2008. Recognizing Faucette’s positive attitude, leadership style and ambition to learn, Leung offered her a host position at Dragonfly.

As she worked her way up, she was promoted to manager in 2020 –– just as they faced a pandemic that would change how they operate. Working through that time led the 36-year-old to understand the hospitality industry is exactly where she wants to be.

Dragonfly’s visionary credits Faucette for learning how to adapt and run their restaurant during what he calls the toughest time of his career.

“Ashley is a natural leader with a good, nurturing mindset,” Leung said. “Her growth through those challenges sings praises to the person she is.”

Faucette oversees their comprehensive training program, which includes studying the menu and their sequence of service. Before servers can take the floor, they must demonstrate expertise in Japanese terms, sushi and bar knowledge through written tests.

Guest Experience

Faucette also enjoys teaching younger employees how to develop guest connections and deliver an unmatched experience, passing down one of the many attributes responsible for Dragonfly’s devoted following of loyal customers. Servers take notes to remember their favorites dishes, drinks and seating preferences. They can accommodate any allergy or dietary request.

“We learn what the customer needs and make it happen no matter what,” Faucette said. “Our passionate chefs and creative bartenders always go above and beyond to make guests happy.”

For Chef de Cuisine Erick Johnson, managing a kitchen that caters to 450 people a day is worth the extra effort. Johnson, who started at Dragonfly as a fry cook 15 years ago, immediately saw the restaurant’s potential with fish flown in from Japan and the fresh creativity of every dish.

“We strive for nothing but excellence and hope to create an even better experience each time a customer walks through our door,” said Johnson. “I want our guests to always feel as though they are coming home.”

Leung feels Johnson’s personality creates high standards for their food.

“Erick’s attitude uplifts his team to create unforgettable dishes,” Leung said. “When you have a leader with positive energy, it’s infectious.”


Kaizen, To Always Be Improving

Bar Manager Cory Underhill echoes this sentiment as he incorporates one of Dragonfly’s key values, Kaizen, into his daily work. The Japanese term means continuous improvement and is the spirit that drives every aspect of the restaurant.

The food and beverage teams are constantly trying different ingredients, talking to new distributors and researching authentic Japanese recipes.

“There is a unique mindset of building on what we have done and bettering ourselves in the quality of drinks, food and service,” Underhill said. “That’s what I love about the culture here, we encourage each other to take it one step further.”

Both Underhill and Leung credit longtime Bar Manager Kristin Amron for mentoring the team and elevating the bar program to become the best in the area.

“The living culture at the bar is based on innovation, professionalism and creativity,” said Leung. “Cory is always looking at how to take things to another level.”

Underhill’s favorite concoction is the Tago Mago, a rich dessert style cocktail sold on the winter 2021 menu, where competing flavors shine through.

He points to the trust Dragonfly’s owner places in him as his daily motivation for self-improvement.

See Also

“When you don’t trust your manager’s ability, you put them in a box. Micromanaging puts a leadership lid on their  growth. My job is to make sure my team’s leaders are watering and nurturing each employee’s growth path,” Leung said. “Creating meaningful connections and allowing them to grow is a gift we can give them.”

Leung, a University of Florida graduate, mentors students and provides guest lectures at his alma mater. He conveys how easy it is to become caught up in the glamor, power, money and fame in business. The entrepreneur aims to teach future generations how true fulfillment can be found in that which is intangible.

Omotenashi, Selfless Hospitality

One memorable story has become synonymous with their mission. A regular guest came every Friday night with his wife and son for many years. When they suddenly stopped, employees noticed the absence of his distinct, thundering laughter often heard from across the restaurant.

The customer was diagnosed with terminal cancer and soon moved to hospice care. During his final days, even though he could no longer eat, his last wish was to recreate the memory of those Friday night dinners with his family. The Dragonfly staff set up a dining area in his hospital room with their favorites.

The following week, at his wife’s request, the longtime regular’s ashes were scattered at Dragonfly’s Orlando location as it was being constructed. Thoughtfully, Leung chose to place the cremains in the cement foundation of the kitchen, known as “the heart of the house.”

At the heart of Japanese service culture is Omotenashi, which means selfless extraordinary hospitality and treating customers like guests in your house.

“My team knows how important and honorable it is to serve others. I continue to remind them how blessed we are to provide for our guests. We don’t take that for granted.” Leung said, “It’s an honor to serve. We never forget that.”



Bar Manager Cory Underhill’s Favorite Omakase Cocktail

Tago Mago


1 ounce Nikka Days Blended Japanese Whiskey

1 ounce Black Peppercorn Infused Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Sake

1.5 ounce Salted and Acid Adjusted Pistachio, Coconut Milk, Lemongrass, Ginger Cordial

– Barspoon Yellow Curry Tincture

Copyright © 2024 Costello Communications & Marketing, LLC

Scroll To Top