Fri, Apr 02 2010 04:00 PM Posted By: By Dennis Kaiser
It was a long and somewhat winding road for Jane Park and her family to open Waki Sushi at 210 Main St. in Seal Beach.
Their biggest challenge came in convincing the local officials that Main Street needed a sushi restaurant more than the Sweet Berry Bliss yogurt shop at the site.
“We started the whole process in February of last year,” Park said.
To make the transformation they had to apply for a permit from the Planning Commission. At the same time, they applied for a liquor license.
On April 8, 2009, planners (Commission Chair Ellery Deaton among them) expressed concern, also raised by some residents, that there were too many restaurants on Main Street.
To change from a yogurt shop to a sushi bar, the restaurant owners had to apply for a permit from the Seal Beach Planning Commission. While the liquor license appeared to be a secondary concern, the conditional use permit for the sushi restaurant was denied.
However, planners voted to recommend that the City Council waive the approximately $1,000 appeal fee.
The store remained empty, the business owners paying rent on the empty space.
The owners appealed the decision to the City Council, but when the issue came up for a vote, Councilman David Sloan was absent.
The council split evenly on the appeal, with council members Charles Antos and Gordon Shanks upholding the Planning Commission decision and Councilmen Gary Miller and Michael Levitt voting to allow the business to go forward.
The Seal Beach City Council voted 3-2 on Monday, June 8, 2009 in favor of granting the business owners the conditional use permit that the Planning Commission had denied them in April. District 2 Councilman Sloan cast the deciding vote.
Park said she and her family were very grateful to the many local people who came out to speak before the City Council in support of the sushi restaurant being allowed to operate.
“These wonderful people supported us and they didn’t even know us personally,” Park said. “That made us feel good because it was a somewhat discouraging process.
“It was very encouraging to see how people in this community embrace each other,” she said.
The remodel of the business to make it a sushi bar began months later.
During this entire time, the space generated no income for the owners. Main Street finally got its first sushi restaurant in January of this year, when the shop opened quietly without the fanfare of a grand celebration.
“For the most part, business has been pretty good, Park said. “It’s OK during the week, but we have been very busy on the weekends.”
The restaurant serves mainly Japanese food with some traditional Korean dishes as well, according to Park.
Local sushi fans say they have found the food to be high quality, well prepared and they appreciate the wide range of choices for such a moderately-sized facility.
There are daily specials from the sushi bar as well as a wide selection of dishes from various soups and salads and more exotic oyster and fish dishes such as the Yellow Tail Kama and Salmon Kama.
For those who are new to sushi, they can try their taste out on the Sushi Sampler, a dish with five different sushi meats including tuna, salmon, yellow tail, red snapper and shrimp.
Park said that despite the uphill climb they have faced to get their restaurant permitted, she and her family are enjoying the adventure of owning their first restaurant.
Park and her parents, father Yong and mother Boo, live in south Orange County’s Irvine.
So why did they choose Seal Beach?
Like many, they say they fell in love with the quaint beach town atmosphere.
“My parents were looking for a good location for about five months,” Park said. “They like the beach communities.”
They discussed at length what kind of business they wanted to open.
“My aunt, my father’s sister, has a restaurant in Los Angeles and we thought we’d like to give it a try,” she said.
The Park family emigrated from Korea to the United States when Jane Park was about 5 years old.
Park’s father had attended college in the United States and moved back to Korea for a while until moving the family to California.
Jane Park has her sights on eventually pursuing a medical career as a nurse and is taking some time off from her studies to help the family business.
Although she was only 24 at the time, she had spoken on behalf of her family before the city officials because she is more comfortable with the English language than her parents.
“I’m going to help them out for a couple of years,” she said. “My plan is to go back to school at UC San Diego. I’m planning on getting my masters in nursing. I’m in a transitional period right now.”
For the Parks, Waki Sushi is a family affair.
Meanwhile, Park’s younger brother Josh, 16, a high school student in Irvine, helps out at the restaurant every chance he gets.
Park said the business really got lucky when it hired its head chef.
“He is an expert at what he does and for now is working at a cost we can afford,” she said.
For now, the Parks are keeping very busy running the sushi restaurant, with its demands on freshness of food and creating a the right atmosphere that will keep customers coming back to Main Street for what they have to offer.
“It’s been good, but we know we can do better,” Park said. “We are already making some changes to the menu based on feedback from our customers.” she said.
“We’ve been told that things will get much more busy as we get closer to summer because a lot of people come to the beach area then,” Park said.
For more information, call (562) 431-8877.
© 2009 Seal Beach News