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Meet Jae Woo of Otosan Sushi in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jae Woo.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jae. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
“Otosan” means “father” in Japanese. My father has been operating restaurants throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest for almost 40 years. It was always my dream to bring his food to California, and when I did, I always knew I wanted to call it “otosan”. People told me, and continue to tell me that I should pick something easier to pronounce or something more memorable, but to me, this felt right.

At the end of the day, this restaurant is a salute to my own father who taught me everything I know about bringing great food into people’s lives. He taught me that as restaurant owners, we are not in the business of food, we are in the business of people…so don’t take shortcuts, with food or with people I grew up in restaurants. My parents worked around the clock and I spent many evenings as a child doing my homework and babysitting my little brother alongside my parents late into the night.

As a child, I always associated restaurant work with long hours, late nights and lots of struggle (which is still sometimes true). Over the years, as I helped grow my family’s business, I started to understand that restaurants (particularly ones that are family owned and operated) have an opportunity to change people’s lives. A thriving small business can impact customers, employees, and certainly the owners as well. The changes that I observed over the years in my staff, in my community and in myself inspired me to want to stay in the restaurant industry despite all the challenges.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Otosan has yet to open. We are tracking to a mid/late June opening date, and when it does, I will consider it to be one of my life’s most important accomplishments purely because of all of the challenges I had to overcome. I started the process of searching for space and negotiating for this space in late 2018. When I started conversations with the developers at 2nd & PCH, I knew that this would be an amazing fit for us once we opened, but it has been one of the most challenging experiences opening a restaurant, even though I have done many in my career.

The biggest setback occurred last year when the first general contractor that I hired abandoned my job site and left with the money he had been received without paying any of the subcontractors. I had to find a new contractor, go through the permitting process all over again, and reconvene construction over budget and completely deflated. This event wiped out my entire life savings and had it not been for support from my family, I would have had to stop construction completely. As soon as construction was on track again, COVID-19 hit, and we have been trying to continue onward despite all of the delays.

Please tell us about Otosan Sushi.
The principles that drive the Otosan brand are not unlike the ones that make my father, and so many other fathers, so great. It is the quiet devotion and stoic emotional effort that goes into each endeavor. It is the dedication to the little things that often go unnoticed, but in the long run, make all the difference in the world. We hope this shows in our food and the way we treat each guest that walks through the door.

The artisanal nature of Japanese cuisine & chef-driven environment breeds a “chef knows best” culture, and even the most sophisticated patrons will find themselves at a sushi bar where they are scolded for wanting what they want. It is rampant in so many Japanese dining experiences today, and it is perhaps, a quest to make sure that everything is “truly authentic”. This is not that place. Our goal is to bring delicious sushi in a refined environment that is still relaxed. The guests’ comfort and enjoyment are our top priority. Here, there is no compromise between great food and ambiance nor is there one between great taste and good service. We are devoted to each step of delivering a fantastic meal, but our space is fresh and fun. We are attentive and thoughtful when we serve you, but not fussy or pretentious in our approach.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Growing up in a restaurant family, we rarely had time to take vacations when I was young. Once a year or so, my father would take a road trip down to Los Angeles from Portland, Oregon to meet some of the vendors he was working with and purchase plates and small wares. My brother and I would sit in the back while my parents drove through the night eating snacks and playing games, and it was probably the most time that our family would spend together outside of being in the restaurant. We couldn’t spend too much time in California because being away meant closing the restaurant, so the vacation was the car ride, but there was so many cozy moments spend in the back of that Suburban. Little did I know that while we played in the back, my father was fighting off sleep to make it back home and open the restaurant, but it showed the dedication he had to spend time with his family whenever he could.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Otosan Sushi
    6480 E Pacific Coast Hwy Suite 140
    Long Beach, CA 90803
  • Website: http://otosan-sushi.com/
  • Phone: 562-431-1334
  • Email: j.woo@otosan-sushi.com
  • Instagram: @otosan-sushi
  • Facebook: @otosansushipch

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