East Tokyo Hibachi brings Japanese cuisine to South Bend's south side
It’s been an unusual path to proprietorship for Shan You, 28, the soft-spoken yet enthusiastic owner of the new South Bend restaurant East Tokyo Hibachi.
“I had a dream to have a restaurant, but not this big,” You said. “My parents said, ‘You have one chance. When you are young, you need to do it. We support you.’ My friends said that too, ‘If you fail, we will support you.’”
Located at 1290 E. Ireland Road in Erskine Village, the 120-person capacity eatery opened quietly July 6. According to You, the restaurant’s reception so far has been far from a failure.
1290 E. Ireland Road, South Bend
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
“This is our tenth day and I haven’t heard a complaint yet,” You said. “I go around to every single table and ask every single customer how they feel. They tell me they enjoy it. So, I’ve enjoyed it, even though it can be hard.”
After managing her boyfriend’s Hibachi grill in New Jersey for more than six years, You arrived in South Bend in March 2014. It was then that she received guidance from her friend, the owner of Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi in Goshen.
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“He told (me) there is no Hibachi restaurant in South Bend on the south side. People have to always drive to the north side to have that,” she said. “It made me really want to try to have a restaurant here … to make it more convenient for people, more easy to have more choices in dining.”
More than 13 months of renovation went into the space formerly home to CiCi’s Pizza and the short-lived Passport Woodfire Grill. You said she inherited a number of problems from the previous tenant, including issues with the air conditioner, electrical wiring and water drainage system, which delayed the business’s opening.
The ceiling and flooring were both replaced, a new sushi bar and flat screen television were installed, as were the six Hibachi grills lining one half of the restaurant. You seemed particularly excited about each station’s ventilation system.
“I’ve noticed some Hibachi restaurants don’t use a good brand,” You said. “The exhaust won’t get all the smoke, so when after people leave the Hibachi table, their clothes smell like they’ve just been to a barbecue place. But our hood will be very good. It will totally make a difference.”
Each Hibachi station can seat ten patrons, but two can be combined for a total of 20 seats. If patrons desire, a maximum of 60 seats can be made available upon reservation.
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For parties of 20 or more, You offers a special of two Hibachi menu items, a drink and tempura ice cream for $20 per guest.The sushi menu features more than 30 different rolls ranging from the $4 salmon skin roll to $14 specialty options.
Made-from-scratch dressings include East Tokyo Hibachi’s yum-yum sauce and ginger dressing. Fruit from the sushi bar doubles as a fresh ingredient for East Tokyo’s smoothie selections.
The restaurant has yet to secure its liquor license, but You said that may be just a few weeks away. Once held, the liquor license will allow her to serve sake and other alcohol.
“We are also considering to expand our menu to other things,” You said. “I’m listening to all our of customers.”
Already added to original menu at the suggestion of customers are East Tokyo Hibachi’s Asian bubble teas including original, Taro, Ulong and Green Tea flavors.
You said while most of her employees are family members or close friends, she is beginning to seek help from those in and around the South Bend area. Interested candidates are encouraged to apply within the restaurant.
“South Bend people, they are really nice,” You said. “I’m just starting to love South Bend, because people are so nice.”
Area residents may have another reason to embrace the Big Apple transplant aside from the her contribution of locally produced Japanese cuisine.
“Myself, I’m from China. My grandma, she is Japanese. Her dream is for me to come back to Japan, but I will never,” You said. “She’s too old and stays in China. I want to do something here for elders that people may do in China to help my grandma not feel so lonely.”
You said she hopes to invite seniors living in the nearby Southfield Village to dine at her restaurant for little or no cost.
“I love kids and probably in the future I will work with schools to have kids come here and enjoy it, too.“