Kang’s: Living the American Dream

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The Nhin Family at Nhinja Sushi & Wok
Kang, Mary, Michael, Kobe, and Jojo Nhin

Kang’s: Living the American Dream

By Mindy Ragan Wood

America has always been known as the land of opportunity where anyone can realize their dreams through hard work, determination, and hope. The Nhin family will tell you from experience, the United States is still where dreams become reality.

Kang and Mary Nhin are the owners of a successful restaurant enterprise. Kang’s Sushi Bar and Bistro of Edmond opened its doors in 2005 as a posh, swanky sushi bar with diverse menu items from the flavors of China, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand. In 2010 they opened the first of four Nhinja Sushi & Wok, a modern and hip Asian restaurant with a streamlined menu and atmosphere more welcoming to families with young children.

The Nhin family immigrated from China to Oklahoma when Kang was 7-years-old, the youngest in his family. His family moved into a 1,600 square foot home with 26 other family members who were all pursuing the American dream. Without any understanding of the English language or culture, it was a tall climb up the ladder of success for everyone.

In the early days of his life in America, Kang spent a lot of time with his brother and sisters who all worked in the restaurant industry. His interest in cooking ignited when his brother took Kang to work with him.

“I would sit in the kitchen and watch everyone work. I learned cooking was very interesting,” he said. “I was very fascinated. I would just watch him cook, and I said to myself, ‘I think I can do that.’”

Although Kang excelled at basketball, his mother encouraged him to pursue the culinary arts. He gave up sports and focused on cooking. In 2004 when Kang and Mary decided to open Kang’s Sushi Bar and Bistro, it was a gamble. They invested the sale of Mary’s day spa business, but it wasn’t enough. They leveraged all their credit and assets, even their home to kick-start their dream.

Mary had just given birth to their second son and started working 13 hour shifts with a two month old baby while jugging her many responsibilities as front manager, office administrator, bookkeeper and marketing mogul. Kang was the chef, handling maintenance, kitchen management, and the food visionary behind the menu. As the demands of motherhood increased, Mary left the restaurant and offered as much support as she could from home.

He went to work early and came home late, making sure the restaurant was pristine, every plate presentation perfect, and every item fresh and prepared to the highest standards.

“We couldn’t fail. We had all our money tied up into this place,” said Kang.
Excruciating hours and the stress of their entire future riding on the restaurant took its toll on Kang, but by 2007 his restaurant was a success when they broke a million dollars in sales. During those years, Kang developed an addiction to alcohol to cope with the stress of running the business. Interacting with customers was also not easy
for Kang.

“When Mary stepped out, it was difficult for me because I’m not a person who is very social. I was always stuck in that corner. When I was here day in and day out, that bar was my friend. I would take a shot before I would talk to anyone, for courage, because I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone unless I was relaxed.”

A DUI was the wakeup call he needed. Kang bounced back from his addiction with more passion and vision for an even brighter future for his family. Kang and Mary envisioned Nhinja Sushi & Wok as a new Asian restaurant that would appeal to families with young children as a fresh casual dining experience.

“You order and pay at the counter, but the food is cooked fresh and brought to your table,” said Mary. “At fast casual, the food is just sitting there behind the counter. The fresh casual and fast casual is the fastest growing niche in the industry.”

Looking back, Kang is thankful for being brought up in a hard-working immigrant family and for the woman by his side.

“My wife spent a lot of time supporting me. Now sitting here, I thank her and love her so much for the support. We learned a lot.”

For locations, menu and ordering information visit kangsasiankitchen.com or nhinja.com

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