DJs and dancing, sushi made to order, cosplay competitions, and anime projected onto the walls. Walking into a Trap Sushi pop-up party means experiencing not just Atlanta, but a bit of Japanese culture, too.
Musical artist Tolden Williams, known by his stage name Troop Brand, and his wife Stephanie Lindo host the bimonthly event at Monday Night Garage in West End to celebrate the interests and cultures they love. Through Trap Sushi, the couple wants to welcome anime aficionados, expose more people to facets of Japanese culture and food, and host a good party celebrating Atlanta in the process.
Anime has been a part of Brand’s life since he was a kid. Originally from Mississippi, he remembers walking into a store as a teenager and grabbing the Shonen Jump manga magazine and the Akira movie.
“I think those two were my intro into anime and manga,” Brand says. He would notice the food in the comics — sushi, dango, ramen, takoyaki — and find himself wanting to try more of it. It wasn’t until he moved to Atlanta around 2014 that he actually started to dive deeper into Japanese cuisine. That, and a trip to Japan with his dad when he was 15, gave him an appreciation for the country’s culture.
“Being [in Japan] and just experiencing the culture, it was so dope cause I’d already been a fan of the culture — like I love sushi, I love the cuisine,” Brand says. “Those influences kind of spawned the idea of Trap Sushi, of bridging the gap between these two cultures [Atlanta and Japan].”
Brand has been plugged into Atlanta’s hip-hop, sushi, and anime scenes for a while now, but noticed there wasn’t a place or an experience where all of his interests intersected. Most anime conventions only occur once a year — and at too high a price point for many people to attend. They can range from $40 to$100 per ticket. These events are “safe spaces” for the anime community, Brand says, but he wanted that to also be true beyond the annual conventions.
In January 2020, Brand teamed up with Erinn Knight to launch Trap Sushi at Our Bar ATL on Edgewood Avenue. Now, he and Lindo plan regular events at Monday Night Garage, while Knight focuses on promoting Trap Sushi to host events in other cities. Depending on the ticket — general admission, early bird, or VIP — a Trap Sushi pop-up costs anywhere from $15 to $30 per person, which gets you into a decked-out party.
Chef Doni Lukman of Atlanta Japanese restaurant Wagaya oversees the food for Trap Sushi, using ingredients from the restaurant’s Japanese market on 14th Street in Midtown to make rolls, nigiri, and sashimi to order. Complimentary Japanese snacks, like Yan Yan, Pocky, Hello Panda, and roasted seaweed, are spread across multiple tables for people arriving early to a Trap Sushi pop-up party.
“Everybody’s not able to make a trip to Japan, or everybody may not even know where to go to try some of these snacks, or everybody may not be up on sushi or up on the culture,” Brand says. “So, we just try to blend the cultures [from Atlanta and Japan] as much as possible to give people that opportunity to see it and experience it.”
Aside from sushi, other local pop-ups like Phew’s Pies and The Real Mexican Vittles serve their dishes while Monday Night pours drinks. The event also showcases Atlanta music and entrepreneurial retail businesses. Trap Sushi taps resident DJ, DJ Lachii, and other local talent for music and invites Atlanta vendors like Overall Designs, Grillz by Scotty and Kimono Gang, which parks “Tokyo Drift-style cars” wrapped in anime characters (aka itasha) in Monday Night’s back chandelier room near the DJ and dance area.
Though costumes aren’t required, there’s always a runway show-style cosplay competition. The DJ plays a track for each contestant as they vie for either the judge’s pick or the crowd favorite title, both of which come with prizes. The overall winner of the cosplay competition gets $100, and the winner of the crowd favorite gets a mystery bag, which in the past has included anime posters, Japanese candy, anime car decals, and more. Afterward, there’s plenty of dancing and other entertainment, like photo areas and board games.
“Trap Sushi was really meant for people like us who love the [anime] culture… who love the food, who love Atlanta,” Lindo says. “But it’s also for the people of Atlanta who may not know too much about it but really like to have a good time.”
Having grown up watching anime, Anthony Drago, Monday Night’s director of hospitality, was personally excited with Brand and Lindo approached him about hosting Trap Sushi at the brewery. But it also supported Monday Night’s mission of investing in the West End community.
“It’s supporting local Atlanta artists, and all the vendors that they have are all local people as well on the West End,” Drago says. “So yeah, let’s support our community and do something we love and resonate with.”
Laree Starke, CEO of Beltline Cosplay, first attended Trap Sushi after Brand and Lindo invited her to judge the cosplay competition at the November 2021 event. Since then, she and members of the cosplay organization have shown up to every single event. She has come dressed up as Pennywise the clown from It, Princess Morbucks from The Powerpuff Girls, and Domino from Deadpool.
“It’s just a vibe,” Starke says. It’s interactive and energetic. The music is great and everyone’s dressed up. Plus, Trap Sushi creates a welcoming space for people of color, something that can be hard to find at some cosplay conventions. “It’s a comfort that I enjoy and something I can relate to a lot easier” than an environment that doesn’t feel as receptive to people of color, she adds.
What started with only a couple hundred attendees hosted roughly 800 people during its most recent party at the brewery. With several events under their belts, Brand and Lindo are looking toward the future and expanding the Trap Sushi experience. Some big names have already taken notice of the pop-up too. Back in February, Trap Sushi collaborated with B.o.B and his Send Noodz brand for a ramen event. Every now and then, the Atlanta rapper stops in to one of the parties.
Brand also hopes to eventually transform Trap Sushi into a Atlanta-Japanese music and food festival, but knows he has to scale up slowly, keeping in mind the community the pop-up is already creating.
“That’s the end goal: taking those steps to do that, but also making sure we don’t grow too fast to the point where we lose our community,” he says.
Trap Sushi’s next event is slated for late August. Follow on Instagram for updates.