Sushi station: Bus terminal offering real Japanese cuisine

June 21, 2018 GMT

When Edward Yun decided to open his first restaurant, he turned to a consultant for advice: his 83-year-old mother.

“She said don’t try to do too much business at once,” he said. “Do it slowly.”

Build your customer base and don’t obsess over profits, she said — pretty sound advice for any new business. Yun, a native of Seoul, South Korea, opened Sushi Bento in La Plaza at Brownsville, 755 International Blvd., on May 1 and held a grand opening on May 16.

A bus terminal may seem like an odd place for a sushi/bento restaurant, but Yun likes being right across the street from Texas Southmost College and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley at Brownsville and all those students and faculty.

Yun, whose mother was born in Japan and whose family has deep Japanese roots, emigrated to the United States in the mid-1970s when he was 12 or so. He spent his teenage years in Denver before moving to California.

“Back then my dad had a Japanese restaurant in Laguna Hills, so I grew up helping my dad,” Yun said.

Yun’s wife, Kyung, an experienced sushi maker who does all the cooking at Sushi Bento, came to Brownsville first to be with their son, who was working on a degree at UTB and now works for the city. Yun, who followed last year, said his son would talk about how much he enjoyed the slow pace of life and friendliness of people in Brownsville, but that there was very little to eat that suited his tastes.

Yun found the same to be true upon arriving here, and had to go to Houston or San Antonio to do his shopping. Forty percent of the reason he opened Sushi Bento was so he could have something to eat, he said.

“I needed food myself,” Yun said. “I found out that no one in Brownsville carries that type of food.”

No real Japanese food, in other words. While sushi products are available from a number of sources, Yun buys all his ingredients aside from meat and poultry from a single Japanese distributor, a company founded more than a century ago, which his father also used: Nishimoto Trading Co. Ltd., now Wismettac Asian Foods Inc.

“It’s my main supplier,” he said. “If they go out of business, I go out of business. It’s that simple. I don’t buy from other companies.”

Nishimoto’s products are “the good stuff” — the same high-quality ingredients Yun’s family uses at home. His aim is to provide the best Japanese food in the Rio Grande Valley while also keeping a lid on prices, he said.

“I don’t know, Houston maybe or San Antonio, they may use some higher grade than me, but I use top-of-the-line for my price,” Yun said.

Business is fairly steady now, although he hasn’t been able to afford advertising, and Yun said he’s looking forward to the start of the fall semester. He said he hopes people like the food and that he can keep paying the rent.

“The restaurant business, you never know,” Yun said. “I’m just doing my best.”

And though he wants to get the word out about Sushi Bento and wants everybody to know what good Japanese food tastes like, Yun is nervous about a big knot of customers showing up all at once. It’s just a two-person operation, the food is made to order, and he doesn’t want to make anybody mad, Yun said.

“I’m very scared of that,” he said. “What I’m looking at is, they’re all my customers. I have limited manpower.” sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

Sushi Bento

La Plaza at Brownsville

755 International Boulevard

(956) 443-0076

Monday-Friday: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Saturday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.