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Jasmine Mohamed, left, and Shawna Broughton. (Larry Penkava / Randolph Hub)

New restaurant Gather living up to its name

ASHEBORO — Jasmine Mohamed and Shawna Broughton are self-professed foodies who will go just about anywhere for quality eats. Now their own eating place is building a reputation as a place to gather for a culinary experience.

In fact, their new restaurant is called Gather. It’s located at 746 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Asheboro, in a building that was vacant for a decade and the second floor was threatening to fall in.

Mohamed said her philosophy was to “find the worst house in the worst place and fix it up. We believe in what we do and we’re not afraid of the location. If the food is good and our passion is strong, they’ll come. We’re going to thrive despite our location, or because  of it.”

Jasmine Mohamed, left, and Shawna Broughton pause in the kitchen where the magic happens. (Larry Pankava / Randolph Hub)

Mohamed, whose family came to America as Vietnamese refugees, grew up in Compton, California, a far cry from Beverly Hills. Her family later bought a farmhouse in Denton and she opened a coffee house called 58 Peacock. She started cooking, although she had zero culinary training, except for cooking for the family.
One day she offered sushi as a special and “it blew up.

“I met Shawna when the sushi went crazy. I needed help and she came on board.”

Broughton, who is from the Four Corners — formed by the intersection of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah — was used to eating green chilis and southwestern potato soup. She learned from Mohamed and contributed some of her own tastes in food.

Many of their customers were from Asheboro and Salisbury, who asked for locations in their cities. As a result, they opened Umami (Japanese for pleasant, savory taste) in Salisbury in November and Gather opened in January.

“Not everyone is open to sushi so we added soul food,” Mohamed said. They also have daily specials, such as meatloaf, seasonal vegetables and mac-and-cheese.

Mohamed explained that their sushi is a rice base that requires a two-hour process, during which they add a vinegar mix. Other ingredients are included based on the customer’s wishes.

“The fish is all sushi grade,” Mohamed said. “It has to be regulated as sushi fish and we get it from sushi vendors.” Those fish include tuna, salmon and hamachi.

Specials are chosen based on what the two find at the grocery store. “There’s no barbecue,” said Broughton. “We want to be different.”

Fried chicken is one of their staples, along with shrimp and fries. “We do everything from scratch,” Mohamed said. “The recipes are in our heads and we don’t share them. We build our menu on what we like and know our customers will like.”

“We do it fresh, therefore it takes longer,” Broughton said, “but the end result is worth it. We are our worst critics. If we don’t like it, it’s not going to get served.”

“The menu is ever changing,” Mohamed added. “If we find something, we put it on the menu and share it. Eating is one of the pleasures of life. For us, it’s the food.”

Not into sushi? Here's a typical Fried chicken plate, this one with sweet potato fries and friend plantains. There are other platter option and plenty of sides to choose from. (Ray Criscoe / Randolph Hub)

Mohamed and Broughton, who just met about 18 months ago, are now so close they’re almost sisters. Asked a question, they often talk over each other trying to get out the answer — which more often that not is the same.

They acknowledged that they’re so much alike and enjoy the same things, not the least of which is food. They’ve even taken trips together, looking for unique foods to sample.

Now they want to share those epicurean experiences.

Melinda Bullard of Asheboro has developed a new taste for sushi, despite being predisposed against it. While waiting for her takeout order one evening, she said, “I’m a southern girl — suchi? But my daughter talked me into it. Now I eat it all. I think the food is excellent, superb. It’s fresh and very well made. I like it and it’s pretty healthy.” 

Mohamed and Broughton named the restaurant Gather because it was “something simple — gather to eat,” Mohamed said. “We opened Jan. 20 in the middle of a snowstorm. We were beyond packed and ran out of rice. It was overwhelming so we know we were in the right place.

“We may outgrow our space pretty soon,” Mohamed said. “In the spring, we’ll have outdoor seating and we want to expand the building and add more parking.”

“We wanted to involve the community,” Broughton said. “This used to be a community center. We have a community table” where they send patrons when other tables are filled. That community table is meant to encourage people to get to know one another. “The fondest memories are made when you gather.”

So just what is sushi?

Many think of sushi as raw fish. But the definition is “a Japanese dish consisting of small balls or rolls of vinegar-flavored, cold-cooked rice served with a garnish of raw fish, vegetables, or egg.” (From bing.com)

In an article titled “Sushi,” Wikipedia says this:

“Styles of sushi and its presentation vary widely, but the one key ingredient is ‘sushi rice.’ A dish known as narezushi, or salted fish, stored in fermented rice for possibly months at a time, has been cited as one of the early influences for the Japanese practice of applying rice on raw fish. The lacto-fermentation of the rice prevents the fish from spoiling. 

“Vinegar began to be added to the preparation of narezushi in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) for the sake of enhancing both taste and preservation. In addition to increasing the sourness of the rice, the vinegar significantly increased the dish’s longevity, causing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned.”

Mohamed and Broughton said they couldn’t call their restaurant a sushi bar because, traditionally in Japan, sushi is prepared by men. 

‘Women You Should Know” in 2016 published the following: “When it comes to women sushi chefs, it’s a rare sight, particularly in Japan where the excuses used to keep women away from the sushi counter are beyond archaic.

“Myths persist that women’s hands are too warm for raw fish, their makeup will block their sense of smell and their menstrual cycles affect their sense of taste. But, in spite of the barriers, a few women are out there challenging the myths and deep-rooted tradition.

“One of them is Chef Yuki Chizui, owner of Nadeshico Sushi, Japan’s first and only all-women staffed sushi restaurant in Tokyo.”

So, in the long run, Gather may add “Sushi Bar” to its name.