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INFORMATION from Mark Saal - www.standard.net

OGDEN — The Yu family has been feeding Northern Utah for more than three decades.

First came Maple Gardens, a popular Chinese restaurant that originally opened in the early 1980s on Riverdale Road and later moved to Washington Boulevard. Then in the early 2000s, the Yu family opened Maple Express at 475 12th St., which continues to offer a more quick-serve approach to a few of Maple Gardens’ signature dishes.

And more recently came Tokyo Station, a teppanyaki-style Japanese restaurant at The Junction in downtown Ogden, 2259 Washington Blvd. The restaurant opened in November 2014.

For King Long “Eugene” Yu, patriarch of the Yu clan, Tokyo Station is the realization of a dream planted 40 years ago, back when he saw his first Benihana restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. Ever since then, he’s wanted to open a Japanese teppanyaki restaurant.

“My dad had this vision,” son Kerry Yu said, gesturing around the restaurant. “He wanted to build this place. This is all him.”

The Yu family is originally from Taipei, Taiwan. In the early 1970s, Eugene and Rita left their three children in Taiwan with grandparents and came to the United States. The couple landed in Columbus, Ohio, where he started out as a restaurant cook and she washed dishes. Neither spoke a word of English.

What brought them to the United States?

“The American dream,” Kerry said. “They wanted a better life for their entire family.”

From left, Kerry Yu, poses with his parents, Rita and Eugene Yu at their restaurant, Tokyo Station on Washington Blvd. Friday, October 7, 2016. The Yu family has been feeding patrons in Ogden for several decades. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
From left, Kerry Yu, poses with his parents, Rita and Eugene Yu at their restaurant, Tokyo Station on Washington Blvd. Friday, October 7, 2016. The Yu family has been feeding patrons in Ogden for several decades. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
Kerry acts as interpreter for his parents. Although they’ve been in this country for more than four decades, most of that time was spent in restaurant kitchens, so they didn’t have extensive opportunities to practice their English.

Once they were settled in Ohio, Eugene and Rita sent for their children — Sheree, Denny and Kerry.

“But my mom couldn’t stay home and take care of the kids — she had to work,” Kerry said. “So we were in Columbus, Ohio, for a month, and then they shipped us back to our grandparents in Taiwan.”

Eugene and Rita soon moved to Chicago, where Eugene began working as a waiter.

Six months later, they sent for the kids again. This time, their grandmother came along to watch the kids so both Eugene and Rita could continue to work.

It was in Chicago that Eugene got the idea to open his own restaurant. So they packed up the family and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where they opened Peking Restaurant in the mid-1970s. They lived there six years before coming to the Ogden area.

“The main reason they moved to Ogden was because it was closer to Los Angeles, where flights from Taiwan landed,” Kerry says. Well, that, and they had a friend living in the Ogden area.

The Ogden venture

The Yus sold Peking Restaurant in Memphis and moved to Ogden to open Maple Gardens in a remodeled house on Riverdale Road. After 10 years in that location, Eugene and Rita moved Maple Gardens to Washington Boulevard, where it remained for 22 years.

Then, three years ago, the Yus sold Maple Gardens, and Eugene finally got around to chasing his dream of opening a Japanese restaurant. On Nov. 23, 2014, Tokyo Station served its first customers.

Kerry, who left his parents’ restaurant business to pursue other career opportunities after they sold Maple Gardens, has now returned to take over operation of Tokyo Station in preparation for his parents’ eventual retirement. Eugene is 74, Rita is 73.

“He had it built for the kids to eventually take over,” Kerry explains of his father’s new restaurant.

Eugene had been trying to get his son to return and take over Tokyo Station for quite some time, but Kerry says he was happy with his job managing a Maverik convenience store.

“I was getting weekends off,” Kerry says. “I hadn’t experienced that in 22 years. A lot of times, I just sat in the basement and watched Netflix — just soaked it all in.”

A plate of sushi at Tokyo Station on Washington Blvd. Friday, October 7, 2016. The Yu family, owners of Tokyo Station, has been feeding patrons in Ogden for several decades. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
A plate of sushi at Tokyo Station on Washington Blvd. Friday, October 7, 2016. The Yu family, owners of Tokyo Station, has been feeding patrons in Ogden for several decades. (BRIAN NICHOLSON/Special to the Standard-Examiner)
But with his kids almost grown and more time on his hands, Kerry figured it was a good time to return and help his aging parents with their restaurant.

Kerry’s brother, Denny Yu, has been running Maple Express for 13 years. He understands the long hours his brother refers to in the food-service industry.

“I guess it’s our livelihood,” Denny explains. “It’s what we know, what we do best.”

Kerry and Denny’s sister, Sheree Yu, is a server at Union Grill in Ogden.

Fine dining

The Yus know Tokyo Station attracts a different clientele than Maple Gardens. A teppanyaki meal, entertainingly cooked right at the diners’ table, averages about $22 a plate at Tokyo Station. Sushi rolls start at $11.

“This for a celebration,” Eugene says in halting English.

Kerry elaborates, explaining that Maple Gardens was for everyday dining; Tokyo Station is for special events like birthdays and anniversaries.

“You can’t eat this every day,” Kerry said. “We wish everybody could, but they can’t. So you don’t see the regulars coming every day, or once a week.”

But Kerry says they are beginning to see familiar faces returning to Tokyo Station.

The restaurant features clean, modern decor, with seating clustered around teppanyaki cooking tables and a sushi bar out front. Asked about the large Japanese characters displayed above the sushi bar, Kerry smiles.

“It says ‘Tokyo Station,’ ” he explains, then adds, “in Chinese.”

“Chinese and Japanese are real close,” he says, flashing another smile.

Eugene says the key to running successful restaurants for so many years is fairly simple. “Make sure everything good and fresh,” Eugene says. “Make sure clean, and good food.”

Asked what he’ll do once he retires, Eugene answers: “No idea.”

“Probably,” Kerry quickly adds, “open up a Mexican restaurant.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.