David Wang knows how competitive Mishawaka’s Grape Road/North Main Street dining market is, but if he’s nervous about jumping into it, he hides it well.
With contractors banging away and drilling in the background on Monday, March 16, Wang spoke with animated gestures and lots of smiles as he described his plans and vision for Daihido, his “mid-to-upscale Asian fusion” concept taking shape in the former Houlihan’s restaurant building at Day Road and Main Street. Houlihan’s went out of business in May.
Wang said he’s pouring at least $500,000 into the renovation, which entails a massive interior renovation and an impressive canopy on the front exterior. Weather permitting, he’s planning a late April or early May opening.
While he’s enthusiastic about the building’s dramatic facelift, he’s perhaps even more excited about the Japanese and Thai menu he’s designing.
There will be a sushi bar and dishes like barbecue squid, Japanese kobe beef, carpacciao, mussels, and an array of fish including Chilean sea bass, Atlantic salmon, cod and escolar.
Wang, who has been running Chinese restaurants for 20 years, in New York city, then Kansas, and then Michiana, will work with a consultant to train a crew of chefs.
Daihido will target a higher price point than those two restaurants, with the average lunch costing $8 to $10 and the average dinner priced at $12 to $22.
Daihido, named from a term Wang coined as a hybrid of “Daihi,” meaning “happiness” in both Chinese and Japanese, and “do,” meaning “place,” joins an increasingly crowded local sushi scene.
Sakura Japanese Steakhouse opened on C.R. 6 in Elkhart in late February, following Woochi Japanese Fusion & Bar in downtown South Bend in Fall 2013 and Zing Japanese Fusion a year before that in downtown Mishawaka.
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Wang said he’s confident there’s room for Daihido in that market, citing Americans’ growing taste for healthier dining options, and he also doesn’t think the Grape/Main area is saturated.
He sees an abundance of American and Italian restaurants there, but nothing like what he’s planning.
“If we have good food, we can attract customers farther out to come in,” Wang said. “This area we have more population (and traffic) than South Bend downtown. We’re going to attract people from Granger and the students and professors from Notre Dame.”
As an example of a healthier dish, Wang said he thinks people will gobble up his Thai soup, tom yum goong, flavored with basil and lemongrass, an herb that some believe has medicinal benefits.
“There’s a growing market demand for Thai food,” Wang said. “In certain dishes, Thai is very healthy for you. More and more people are health conscious, so when they go out to eat, they choose food that actually is helping their health. They are spending the money and they watch their health.”
Wang will own the restaurant with partner Chris Wu, who manages Ho Ping Garden. He’ll also work closely with bar manager Tommy Meadows, who takes his craft very seriously.
“I love to create,” Meadows said. “I love to explore, use my mind, use my imagination to create cocktails. A lot of what I’m doing here, everything is fresh. House syrups, fresh fruits, fresh herbs. I’ve got drinks made from thyme, basil. Artisanal is what I’m calling them. They’re more so pieces of artwork, is what I’m trying to do. Every cocktail is an experience in itself.”
Meadows said other area upscale restaurants contract with an outside firm to design their drinks, but he is doing it all himself, and will encourage his bartenders to create new cocktails each month.
He said he’s been trying out new recipes with Ho Ping House customers.
“I’ve done tons of research and tastings so that every single beverage we serve in this restaurant pairs with Asian food because Asian food has a lot of flavor, so you have to be very careful when you’re matching stuff up,” Meadows said.
“That’s going to be ongoing training with staff so they know what they’re serving. I have some cocktails you enjoy before dinner so you get your taste buds riled up. I have some you enjoy with specific meals throughout dinner. And then I have some for after dinner.