Columbus man Chen Wang has been cooking for almost 24 years – since he was a young teenager in China. Wang turns 39 this year, but he is already living his dream as the owner of Tokyo Japanese Cuisine.
“My parents were busy. No one could take care of me,” Wang said. “I have to take care of myself, cook, go to school. I love food, I love making food and making it look pretty, I also love eating food.
“I am now almost 40 years old. I learned in a cooking school in China. I (started) cooking a long time ago.
It was at culinary school that Wang learned the art of preparing a variety of Asian dishes, including Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
Wang said he has remained in the restaurant industry since graduating.
“I never changed it, just in the kitchen all the time,” he added. “So I never had any other job.”
Wang said he had lived in Columbus since 2008. A friend who worked at Hy-Vee approached him about moving here. Previously, Wang worked in the Asia department of Columbus Hy-Vee since the move.
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Wang said he likes Columbus for its small-town feel.
“People are pretty nice. Small towns are good,” Wang added. “Shortly before that, I lived in Los Angeles. I (not) liked it, it was too hot, a lot of people.
Opening his own restaurant is something he always wanted, Wang said. He noted that Columbus lacked a Japanese restaurant.
“I know I’m from China but I even know Chinese food, they already have a lot of Chinese food. I wanted it to be (which) Columbus (didn’t),” Wang said.
Although there is the Saru Hibachi and Sushi food truck in the Goodwill parking lot located in the northwest part of town, Wang’s restaurant is a sit-down establishment.
“They don’t need to go to Omaha. They don’t need to go to Lincoln. So 40 minutes, 45 minutes to do that,” Wang added. “Columbus has this right now. Five minutes (to) come here; it’s easy.”
Tokyo Japanese Cuisine, 2610 23rd St. in Columbus, opened on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Wang completely remodeled the building, a process that took about four to five months.
“We love the opening of new restaurants in our community. It’s always great,” said Sandie Fischer, director of membership and community engagement at the Columbus-area Chamber of Commerce. “Sometimes people say ‘Oh we have another restaurant like this’ ‘No we don’t need another one’ but this one here – yes they have this opportunity to have something different.”
Notably, the menu features sushi and hibachi, as well as other Japanese and Chinese dishes. A variety of lunch specials, served with miso soup and rice, are available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. There are also specials for dinner.
The company is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. from Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday; and from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Wang noted how busy the restaurant has been since the day it opened.
“Yesterday I closed for half a day because I had no more food,” Wang said on May 13. “I had to make sure everything was going well for the customers.”
Wang said he wanted people to remember that the company is very busy and he is still learning the best way to operate. It is hiring people to help meet demand, he noted.
“I want to be 100% sure that this food is good for the customers. I don’t want people to be mad at me,” Wang said. “I can cook really good food but sometimes too busy, they wait too long. I feel very bad. I want people to be happy.
Fischer added that Tokyo Japanese Cuisine will be a good addition to the community.
“For someone to dream that they wanted to be their own entrepreneur, their own boss, and they took it and ran with it, it’s just wonderful,” Fischer said.
Hannah Schrodt is the editor of the Columbus Telegram. Contact her by email at [email protected]