23 Aug 2014
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Immigrants Chase American Dream with Cuisine

Natives from diverse countries enrich Long Beach's restaurant scene.

Hide Yamamoto came to America from Osaka with one suitcase and little money to study English in 1978. He has since built a successful Japanese restaurant in Long Beach, Nagahama on East Park Avenue, where generations of patrons have feasted on his traditional sushi and specialty rolls.

“It’s much harder to open a restaurant in Japan,” said Yamamoto about his native land, where sushi is served only on special occasions. “I couldn’t do this there.”

Yamamoto is among the immigrant restaurant owners in Long Beach who offer authentic, traditional fare from their native countries, and who know the different challenges of maintaining a business in their adopted land.

“It isn’t easy here either,” said Yamamoto, who works 60 to 70 hours a week with one day off and took his last vacation five years ago. “I’d like to expand and/or open another restaurant in Florida.”

Owner of Cha Ba Thai on West Park Avenue, Thana Kigprayoon arrived in New York in 1997 from Bangkok, where his grandmother owned a restaurant. His parents had emigrated 20 years earlier and opened a restaurant in Astoria.

“Having a restaurant in America is much harder than in Thailand,” Kigprayoon said. “Americans want fast delivery. In-house, they expect service within five to 10 minutes and a half-hour delivery. It‘s quite a challenge.”

In Thailand, Kigprayoon explained, people eat all day, food is cheap, portions are smaller and restaurants are open 24 hours, but in America food has to look as good as it tastes and restaurants must be spotless.

Despite the recession, Cha Ba has grown. Kigprayoon attributes this to the quality of his food, which is made to order and prepared with fresh ingredients at reasonable prices, including meat, chicken and fish priced cheaper than his competitors.

Specials change every three months, but four-year-old prices are maintained. Chilean Sea Bass, Duck Mango and Grilled Salmon Salad with Mango are popular dishes. Loyal customers order takeout and make reservations. 

Down the block on West Park, Kevin Fallon owns and runs Kev’s Caribbean Kitchen. He arrived in America from Jamaica in 1996, and opened his restaurant in Long Beach in August 2010. It was extremely busy at first, he said, and he maintains a loyal following that includes Jamaicans and locals.

The house specialty is Jerk Chicken, grilled with authentic Jamaican spices and served with rice, vegetables and plantains. Curry Goat, a favorite, is sautéed with potatoes and carrots in rich curry sauce. Hot soup, a staple of Jamaican cuisine, which is prepared daily and features beef, chicken, pea and vegetable on different days.

His mother, who had a restaurant in Kingston that served traditional fare to locals, inspired Falloon’s love of cooking.  

“This is my dream, to have my restaurant and bring food that I grew up with to this community, sharing the love,” he said.

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