Wearing a black cap turned backward, Ho Chan Jang, head chef and president of the Balance Pan-Asian Grille in Maumee, greeted his customers with his specially crafted Asian dishes.
"Because I was born in Korea but grew up here, I know what good food is in both cultures. … People have asked me if my restaurant is a chain from California. I feel very proud," Mr. Jang said.
Mr. Jang came to Toledo from South Korea when he was 7.
He grew up helping his parents at their Chinese restaurant in Bowling Green.
"At home, my mom always cooked everything from scratch, so I learned from her," Mr. Jang said.
Although Mr. Jang always has loved food, the idea of opening a restaurant was always up in the air. He received a bachelor's degree in fine arts with a business concentration from the University of Toledo in 2009.
But as he graduated, Mr. Jang realized that he wanted to go into the food business and change the stereotype of Asian cuisine, which was often considered unhealthful.
The opportunity came when he was introduced to Prakash Karamchandani, an Indian- American alumnus of the university.
"I felt like I couldn't expand with only the food," he said. "My business partner and I specialize in different things, so it worked well."
Mr. Jang said that it took more than a year to develop the concept for the business.
Within two years, Mr. Jang and his partner opened their second Pan-Asian Grille chain restaurant on Central Avenue near Holland Sylvania Road.
"I am glad that my business makes my mom proud. I learned the traditional Asian cooking from my mom, but now I make my food from scratch and create a new kind of Asian fusion," Mr. Jang said.
Growing up as one of the few Asian-Americans at school, Mr. Jang developed his own understanding of race.
"There are always typical stereotypes. Once a friend asked me: 'Are you Chinese or are you Asian?' I was like: 'Dude, that's the same thing.' Racism is always alive, but I don't think of people that way. I have friends who are Koreans, blacks, and Caucasians. I don't think about race that much," Mr. Jang said.
Mr. Jang pointed to the colorful tattoos on his arms as an example.
He said that he had the tattoos because he loves the arts, but he covered them up whenever he went to the Hanmi Covenant Presbyterian Church on Central Avenue.
"I never forget where I am from. I have lived here longer than I did in Korea. I hold traditional Asian values, but I live with the American lifestyle," he said.
-- Liyan Chen