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AJ McCarron to open new sushi restaurant in Tuscaloosa

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AJ McCarron to open new sushi restaurant in Tuscaloosa

Caroline Japal

Caroline Japal

Caroline Japal

Crimson Tide alum AJ McCarron will soon open a sushi restaurant in downtown Tuscaloosa.

Christina Ausley

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AJ McCarron knows how to roll with the Tide, but now he’ll be delving into a new kind of a roll – sushi, that is. 

After winning his second national championship in 2012, few doubted McCarron would ever forget his time in Tuscaloosa. Five years later, he’s still rolling with the Tide, but this time it’s in sushi style. Co-opening Tuscaloosa’s first ever “build-your-own” sushi bar, McCarron will leave a mark on more than the football field.

“You walk into our fast-casual atmosphere and you’ll design your own roll every time,” said Pete Zimmer, co-owner and main operator of Ajian Sushi. “At the hit of a button we’ll have white or brown rice, and from there you’ll pick your proteins, vegetables, toppings and sauces for close to $8 a roll.”

After spending 30 years in the restaurant business, Zimmer hopes to offer both the usual and unusual rolls one might expect from a classic sushi bistro. Ajian Sushi will maintain the traditional proteins like smoked salmon and spicy tuna, but will also provide options like the flamin’ hot Cheeto roll, peanut butter and jelly roll and the banana and Nutella roll for more daring customers.

“We’re going to do a lot of fun stuff,” Zimmer said. “We’ll have seasonal fruits and vegetables, different sides and salads, a lot of house-made drinks like lavender lemonade and agave gingerade and maybe even a dessert roll made of fruit roll-ups, rice krispy treats and licorice.”

After visiting his son, a sophomore at The University, Zimmer became inspired to start the first build-your-own sushi restaurant in Tuscaloosa. Since then, he has remained in close contact with McCarron after running into one of AJ’s fellow Cincinnati Bengals teammates, Michael Johnson.

“I ran into Michael while I was in Cincinnati, and he was really enthusiastic about my idea for the restaurant,” Zimmer said. “So I asked if he thought AJ might be interested in co-owning the place with me, and he went on to mention it to AJ at practice. The next day I had a text from AJ that said ‘I’m in, let’s do this.’”

Johnson has since become an investor in the restaurant, alongside one of Zimmer’s close friends and restaurant partner, Carol Ryan.

“We met at a Bengal’s game quite a few years ago and we’ve been great friends ever since,” Ryan said. “My husband and I could tell how passionate he was about the idea, so as soon as he was ready we agreed to invest in the restaurant.”

With construction underway at 1914 University Blvd., Zimmer hopes this will be the first of over ten Ajian sushi restaurants in the state of Alabama. The projected opening is June 1, as Zimmer moves from the city life of Cincinnati to the college town of Tuscaloosa.

“We’re excited and we’re all in,” Zimmer said. “It’s a big move for my family and me but we’ve decided to pick up and make Alabama our home as we have the support of AJ, his wife and Michael. At the end of the day I just trust in the Lord. Everything fell into place at exactly the right time so we believe it’s definitely the right move for us.”

Many students and Tuscaloosa residents look forward to the opening this summer as Ajian sushi will offer a build-your-own sushi restaurant unlike anything seen in town before.

“I’m really looking forward to trying this place out as soon as I come back for classes in the fall,” said Maris Hardee, a sophomore majoring in biology. “It’s so exciting to have a place where I can completely customize my own roll for a really reasonable price. I can already tell this place is going to be insanely packed as soon as it opens.”

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AJ McCarron to open new sushi restaurant in Tuscaloosa