Sushi Republic gets new owners
From left to right: Sam, Kenny, Jackie and Andrew Kang photo by Ciara Kelley
Greensboro’s Sushi Republic has defied the odds by prospering on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro strip where, whether due to student preference or corporate-courting realtors, pizza and subs dominate the increasingly homogenized foodscape.
The popular 14-year-old restaurant, serving Japanese and fusion cuisine with a smattering of Korean entrées, recently came under new ownership when Sun Ja Lim sold it to Andrew Kang. Like Lim, the Kang family is from Atlanta, home to one of the largest Korean-American communities in the United States.
It’s not surprising that Korean-Americans own Sushi Republic; sushi is hugely popular in Korea, and the U.S. receives more immigration from that country than the one that invented it. More remarkable is how it’s prospered on Tate Street, where none of its predecessors have survived long.
When brothers Jin and Shawn Chang opened what they first called Sushi 101 (until a Charlotte chain of that name complained) at 423 Tate St., it occupied what had been a laundromat, a Burger King, a bagel shop and a pita shop. Within a year of its 2004 opening, it was packed weekend nights and doing brisk Monday-to-Thursday business.
In 2007, needing more room and parking, the Chang brothers gambled on the strip’s most unsuccessful location, the restaurant and patio space at 329 Tate St. When I moved here in 1981, it had been empty since the Biker Invasion of 1979 (which I hope to write about someday) and remained so until 1986.
Over the next two decades, it was the site of several fine-dining establishments, a bookstore/sandwich shop, a frat bar, a gay bar and a soul food restaurant. (Few lasted more than two years, and one closed after multiple ALE violations.)
However, the Chang brothers broke the curse, and, made restless by their own success, moved on, selling it to their mother Sun Ja Lim in 2012. Now Lim has passed the torch to the Kang family: Andrew, the owner and manager; his brother Sam, who works in the kitchen and as a server; their mother Jackie, who works in the kitchen; and their father Kenny, the head sushi chef.
Andrew explained that his mother is friends with Sun Ja Lim’s sister and had heard Lim was contemplating selling Sushi Republic after opening Tampopo, her ramen restaurant in the FantaCity International Shopping Center.
“With her age, Ms. Lim was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed,” Andrew said. “We just happened to be very lucky with the timing of it all.”
Andrew said his family lived 22 years in Atlanta before moving here this summer. “We came over in 1996 when I was 6, and my brother was 3,” Andrew said. “For all intents and purposes, we’re American, but my parents are still obviously very Korean. We’re all naturalized now, of course.”
Andrew and his father were born in Daejeon, his brother and my mother in Seoul. Andrew said he feels lucky to be working with them.
“As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that a close family is a blessing in itself. I feel like my family came here with this one common goal, and we’re doing the best we can.”
Andrew told me that his father has 25 years of experience as a sushi chef and his mother has spent a similar amount time serving in and managing restaurants. He said he has five years experience as a server and five as a baker. His brother Sam has nearly seven years of baking experience himself.
Andrew has recently introduced arguably the best lunch special on Tate Street: a specialty roll and five pieces of nigiri, along with miso soup and salad, for $9.99 plus tax. The one that Ciara Kelley photographed for this article included the Red Ninja Roll, made with fried shrimp, avocado, and cucumber topped with spicy tuna, tempura flakes, tobiko, eel sauce, and spicy mayo. Both it and the nigiri were delicious.
When I asked Andrew if he intended further changes, he said he wants to heat the patio so it can be used in winter. In addition to the patio, Andrew’s father is putting together a new menu with rolls he’s made throughout his career. Andrew and Sam also hope to add new dessert items as well.
I asked him if there was anything he’d like to say to our readers by way of introduction.
“First and foremost, I would like to thank Ms. Lim for giving the Kang family this opportunity. My family is excited to continue the tradition of excellence she has cultivated over the past decade. and are committed to taking the restaurant to new levels.”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.