It’s the lunch rush at Yuki Arashi. As diners steadily stream in looking for Asian tapas and Japanese sushi, back in the kitchen prep is already under way for another busy night. Despite a sluggish economy, the restaurant is booked for dinner tonight and the rest of the week. Yuki has enjoyed a steady upsurge in traffic since its 2007 opening, gaining the affection of Sundancing celebs such as actor Scott Wolf (a Park City local) and many others.
Owner Soo Chyong is gratefully aware of all of this. But whether he’s talking about the state of the restaurant industry, his mother’s kimchi, or future plans for his growing restaurant group (which also includes Al Dente, a new Italian restaurant opened in December, and A Wok Away, a Chinese restaurant also opened in 2011), his tone is even-keeled and direct. His look, too, reflects that cool mien. A well-pressed button-down shirt, smart slacks, an understated accent of jewelry, and the faint scent of cologne constitute Chyong’s usual uniform of choice.
In the midst of explaining how he creates a stunning hamachi carpaccio and a signature entrée, Duck Squared (featuring the fowl and a Korean rice dough delicacy in a sweet and spicy sauce), his cell phone chirps. He answers immediately in a calm, cool tone. It’s a customer wanting to make a reservation. Without missing a beat, he quietly excuses himself from the table and takes down the information by hand himself. Such tendencies are not unusual for Chyong. He’s at once hands-on and hands-off as a restaurateur—engrossing himself in the numbers that make any business succeed, while letting his trusted staff do what they do best. “I’m only as good as the team,” Chyong says. “It’s people like my GM Matt Baydala (at Yuki Arashi) who allow me to pursue other opportunities, like opening Al Dente.”
Chyong doesn’t regard himself as a food expert. “I only know what I like to eat,” he explains. But he knows what works. From his early days in Park City 23 years ago as a Chicago transplant, the ski bum–turned–business owner has worked his way from dishwasher to busser to cook, chef, and manager through the town’s most venerable kitchens, rubbing elbows and forging friendships with the likes of local restaurateur success stories John Murcko and Bill White.
Chyong saw a niche for casual, affordable food in Park City, and he created the right formula with Yuki Arashi and then A Wok Away. For some, the Italian-themed Al Dente seems an odd foray—but it makes sense to Chyong. He saw a great space (the former Jean-Louis Restaurant), renovated it, and brought in classically trained talent to develop authentic Italian cuisine that met a need for Main Street diners (try the Linguine alla Diavola, with littleneck clams, PEI mussels, black tiger prawns, and spicy tomato sauce).
“I don’t want to think of not taking the next step,” he explains of his rapid growth in the past two years. There are ideas milling through his head; you can see them swimming through his eyes. But before he can speak, his cell phone rings again—it’s time to take another reservation for one of his popular restaurants.