Until recently, Kevin Wu never intended to open a restaurant.
He grew up watching his parents, immigrants from Taiwan, work long hours in restaurants, most recently at Sushi House in Cedar Rapids, which their family opened in 2004. He didn’t want that life.
“As a first-generation American, I watched my parents work in restaurants all their lives,” he said.
But he graduated from college in 2007 and shortly after, was laid off from a Manhattan hedge fund firm during the financial crisis. When his mom asked him to come home and help his father with the restaurant, he did. And he realized he actually liked it.
“I got inspired by making food. I found the restaurant industry is not that bad. It’s what you make of it,” he said. “The feeling of making something that people are enjoying makes me very happy.”
On Oct. 9, he opened Soseki Sushi Cafe & Sake Bar in Iowa City. His father, Peter Wu, sold Sushi House in November 2016 and is helping Kevin get Soseki on its feet before retiring.
“Soseki” means “foundation stone.” Kevin Wu said he named the restaurant that in honor of his Christian faith, the foundation of the rest of his life.
“It helps remind me everything given to me is from God,” he said.
Along with sushi and Japanese and Chinese dishes, the restaurant offers a full sake bar and a coffee shop. Wu’s wife, Yahong Wu, brought her barista knowledge to the coffee shop side of the eatery, which includes espresso drinks, tea and smoothies. They also serve grab-and-go sushi, pre-made and ready for hungry customers to take out.
Diners can select made-to-order sushi and other dishes from the menu. Non-sushi dishes include appetizers like tori no karage, Japanese-style fried chicken, Chinese dishes like Mongolian beef, or Japanese donburi dishes, like a pork chop over rice dish. “Donburi” means “over rice.”
At the sake bar counter, glasses of the Japanese rice wine are served in little wooden boxes. Sake cocktails also are available.
Kevin Wu acknowledges sushi, sake and coffee is an unusual combination, but said they bring together three of his culinary passions.
“To be honest, those are the things I enjoy, so I can share that with others,” he said.
WHAT: Soseki Sushi Cafe and Sake Bar
WHERE: 227 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
HOURS: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 8 a.m. to midnight Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday
DETAILS: (319) 351-1800, Sosekicafe.com