After working for years in a traditional hibachi-style Japanese restaurant, Jingbo Xiao had the idea to distill the menu down to a fast-casual concept. Three years ago, his plans came to fruition when he opened Soba Asian Kitchen
in Sandusky (2904 Milan Rd., 419-502-2030), which offers the same great food minus the theatrics.
“I was a general manager at a full-service hibachi restaurant and what I noticed was a lot of customers got take-out, but they were paying full hibachi prices,” he explains. “The idea popped into my head that if the opportunity presented itself I would open my own fast-casual hibachi restaurant.”
Last week, Xiao opened his second Soba location, this one on Coventry (1827 Coventry Rd., 216-331-7029), in the former Jimmy John’s restaurant space. The 1,800-square-foot store features an open kitchen and seating for 40, though dine-in service is severely reduced at the moment.
Fans of the traditional hibachi experience will get the same great taste and more at Soba, adds Xiao. While the flaming volcano onion might be a casualty of the concept, the rest of the food actually expands the range.
“In terms of the recipes, I updated them to make it even better,” he explains. “We give you different flavors. When you go to a restaurant, you get everything cooked in the teriyaki sauce. Here, you have your choice of five different sauces.”
The fully customized “bowl-type” experience begins with a choice of bases that outdoes most of the concepts’ brethren. Options include basil steamed rice, fried rice, traditional egg noodles, soba noodles and udon noodles. Next comes the choice of veggies: baby corn, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, onion, kimchi… In terms of protein, the choices are chicken, steak, shrimp and pork belly. Sauces include teriyaki, garlic butter, Thai chili, Korean BBQ and Sriracha. But wait, there's more.
“Obviously you get the yum-yum sauce, which comes with all of the meals,” Xiao says. “You can’t have hibachi without yum-yum.”
To facilitate planned future growth, Xiao already acquired a commissary in Cleveland, which is where he’s from.
“I always planned on opening multiple units,” he says. “The thought was to open in Sandusky and then bring the concept back to Cleveland. Obviously, the focus right now is to bring a good customer base to Coventry.”