Give us brief rundown of your restaurant experience...
Sinh: My first job was as host at Benihana. It was so messed up there because they only allowed the Hispanics to make sushi. They wouldn't allow me to learn because I was young and the only Asian guy behind the bar. They made me do the dirty work. Eventually I could make basic rolls like spicy tuna and California, but I did more cleaning and dishes than sushi work. I learned by watching. I adapt very quick thanks again to my mom, who would cook and make me taste and then answer her questions -- 'what's in it?? How did I cook it?' Then she would explain it all. That's why I can do it today.
I worked at a couple other restaurants. I was a waiter and got to do a little bit of sushi at Nagasaki, but their sushi isn't big. It’s more hibachi. Then I worked at Wasabi (which has since closed) for a few years. I learned a lot and got to be head chef and manager.
So, how were able to serve raw fish from a truck?
Sinh: The Health Department gave me hell! It took five times to pass. They didn't want me to open. They didn't believe sushi should be served on a truck. Whatever fish we prep that day we sell. We don't keep any fish overnight. That's why I always sell out. People were hesitant at first, but now everyone is following me. They realize sushi can be served on a truck and mine is a lot fresher than some restaurants. The truck is chef-owned, not boss-owned. I care about my customers first. The money comes later.
What are your best sellers?
Sinh: The biggest hit right now is the spicy crawfish nachos. I got the idea from a truck on the west coast. I saw a picture and put my twist on it. I use Nacho Doritos, spicy crawfish, pico de gallo, spicy mayo & Sriracha. I try to focus on clean eating so my customers don't feel bloated or tired when they go back to the office.
Also popular is the sushi burrito -- we brought it to Memphis from west coast. Again, I never ate one before. I just made it my own way. Out west they use more veggies. I believe in more protein… snow crab, yellowtail, etc. Ours comes just as big as a burrito and is meant to be hand held. I serve it with spicy mayo on the side to complement.
My homemade kimchi fries are a big hit. A friend from Dallas asked me to add it. He just told me what was in it. I use seasoned fries, they have more flavor, stay crispier. I add real ground beef (90% beef, 10% fat) and my homemade kimchi. I add tomato, cilantro, spicy mayo, Sriracha, and an egg sunny side up. Growing up, we always got egg with dinner. The yoke adds flavor and protein too.
What made you decide to open a restaurant? How will it be different than the truck?
Sinh: I never thought I would come this far this fast. I told my customers I wanted a restaurant by the end of the year and it came true. I never thought I'd pull it off. I just went to bank and they approved it. I was shocked. I was ready for a brick and mortar to show what real food tastes like when you put love into it. We can store more things at a restaurant and keep things fresher. Also we are staying open until midnight on weekends so people can eat well late at night.
We’re going to have table service. There’s a drive through window so to go orders can be picked up and during winter and summer customers can stay in the car. Then you can have dogs, a baby in back seat, etc. and we'll hand it to you.
We’ll have more platter combos, so you can bring them home and feed whole family. I want to make it convenient. And we’ll do any kind of catering -- parties, weddings -- nothing too small or large. I’ll add on bento boxes with rice, meat, pork belly, secret sauce and a salad on side. There will be special drinks, like a sake martini. I have a little bartending background and love mixing drinks as much as cooking. We’ll also sell wine and beer.
What made you choose this location? (The old Wendy’s across from the Main Library, 2895 Poplar).
Sinh: I got lucky. I’ve been looking at this spot for a year. I bumped into one of my old bosses at the warehouse where we get our food. Turns out he had bought the old Wendy's. He didn’t want the building, just the land. He leased it to me. I looked at so many places and found nothing better. The kitchen is large and the way I want it and there’s a great parking lot.
And when will the restaurant open?
Sinh: I really thought I would be open in October, and then December, but now it looks like early January. We are going through inspections. We’ve had vent and hood problems -- it’s the only thing keeping me from opening right now. Everything else is completed. I thought it would be easy, but I had to get all new equipment. It took a month to clean the kitchen. I had to renovate -- everything inside is brand new. Only the racks were usable. I had to build rather than take over, but I built to my specs and I love it. Everything you see is all about me.