Koreans bring Japanese food to Kennewick, Sunnyside with Osaka Teriyaki & Sushi restaurants

Customers at the new Japanese restaurant in Kennewick -- Osaka Teriyaki & Sushi -- may be surprised to discover it's owned by two Korean immigrants.

"Ninety nine percent of Japanese restaurants are run by Koreans. The Japanese, they work in offices and in business. Koreans, we know how to run restaurants," said owner Yonok Kang with a grin.

After immigrating from Korea about 23 years ago, she met and married her husband, Min Han, and both worked in the restaurant industry, mainly on the East Coast.

She worked out front, waiting tables, while he was back in the kitchens.

"My husband is very dedicated. Every time he went to work at a new restaurant he looked for the very best one, and then learned and wrote down their best recipes," she said.

The best of the best, with a little tweaking from Han, are what they use today in their restaurants, Osaka in Kennewick and Sakura Teriyaki & Sushi in Sunnyside.

They owned a Japanese restaurant in Seattle for years before selling it four years ago.

"I hated the wet, cold winters in Seattle. When we sold the restaurant, I told my husband I wanted to go somewhere else. So we went for a drive over here," she said.

They stopped in Sunnyside and fell in love with the town and Eastern Washington's climate. Kang and Han found an empty Pizza Hut at the Mid-Valley Mall, rented it and began remodeling. They opened there more than three years ago.

"People thought we were taking a gamble, opening a sushi restaurant in Sunnyside. We kept hearing, 'Wow, a sushi restaurant in Sunnyside?' But we knew we could do it if we worked hard," she said.

Kang said they gave away many free samples in the beginning.

"We had to teach our customers what sushi is, that it's not all raw fish," she said.

They even adjusted their company name, making sushi the last word on the sign "just in case we wanted to cut it off and make the restaurant Sakura Teriyaki, no sushi," she said.

That never happened. Before long, the restaurant began drawing regular customers in from Sunnyside and the surrounding areas. Word spread and even Tri-Citians -- many of them of Japanese/Asian heritage -- began making the drive to Sunnyside.

"They kept asking me, 'When will you open a restaurant in the Tri-Cities?,' " Kang said.

Earlier this year, Kang and Han decided the time was right, and they found a building near Southridge High School. After months of renovations on the former auto shop, they opened in late summer.

They decided to name the new restaurant Osaka because there already was another Japanese restaurant in the Tri-Cities called Sakura.

"We wanted no confusion," she said.

But both their restaurants have the same menu and offer everything for takeout.

All their sauces are made from scratch by Han. Their meals are low fat, and they use no monosodium glutamate, known as MSG. They pride themselves on using the freshest produce and sushi-grade fish bought from a Japanese fish company in Portland.

"Nothing is pre-made. When the customer orders, that's when we start to make it," she said.

One difference between the two restaurants is that Osaka in Kennewick features a sushi bar where you can sit and watch your sushi being made.

-- Osaka Teriyaki & Sushi

-- Hours are from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.

-- Phone: 737-2900.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513;