Shh! Inside NJ’s Secret Sushi Pop-Up

Jay Powles created Sushi by Sea—an exclusive, invite-only dining experience—to foster friendships over fresh fish and generously flowing sake.

Glimpses of a 16-course omakase meal. Courtesy of Sushi by Sea

What’s better than indulging in a fresh, 16-course omakase meal prepared directly in front of you? Keeping it a secret, of course.

Sushi by Sea operates as an exclusive, invite-only sushi experience in New Jersey. The concept came from Jay Powles, who grew up in South Africa but has lived in multiple countries. He flirted with the idea of attending culinary school, then switched gears to become a business consultant—but always held onto his passion for food.

After years in Manhattan, Powles now resides in Edgewater, a place he felt had great dining potential. While living in New York City, he attended secret pop-up dinners and speakeasies, and frequented the city’s exhaustive array of well-known restaurants. Earlier this year, he began working on a secret business model with secret partners.

“We came up with the idea of doing pop-ups,” Powles says. “I started networking with a bunch of restaurants and asking them to team up. The approach is to maximize our brand and help existing businesses.”

Once or twice a month, on days that many restaurants are closed, Sushi by Sea operates out of the unused space. This relationship, Jay says, benefits Sushi by Sea while bringing awareness and new customers to the hosting restaurants. Since launching in early 2021, Powles has operated his secret dinners in Cliffside Park, Englewood Cliffs, Edgewater and more.

The carefully crafted omakase (essentially, Japanese for tasting menu) is invite-only, with the location provided only to confirmed guests. Attendees must be invited by the pop-up or referred by past guests. To be added to the waitlist, sushi lovers can also send a direct message to the Sushi by Sea Instagram account. Invitees receive the restaurant address and password needed to enter.

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The 16-course menu is revealed dish by dish as it is served to a table of eight diners. Courses range from uni (sea urchin) to king salmon belly to tiger prawns, plus exotic toppings and special sauces made by the secret chef. The menus, just like the location, is always in rotation. The fish is sourced directly from Japan, and the complimentary sake flows throughout the two-hour event.

“When I came to America,” Powles says, “I found it difficult to find and build meaningful relationships with people. I’m trying to build a community presence like that.”

Though Sushi by Sea has been moving around for months, a permanent home is the end goal. But even once that location has been secured, Powles promises, the exclusivity of the experience will remain. His team is keen to continue the secret pop-ups with restaurant owners and operators.

“We want to give New Jersey something cool and complex that you can find outside of the city,” he says. “I want people to think, We have this in New Jersey? It’s really something special.”

Sushi by Sea dinners occur once or twice a month, depending on the spaces required. Seatings are at 5, 7 and 9 pm, and cost $150 per person. Private parties, special events and personal omakase experiences are also available. For more information, visit @sushibysea on Instagram or contact Powles at [email protected].

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