Abilene natives have been mourning the loss of Fuji Japanese Steak house for years. However in November of 2014, Fuji’s was reborn into Hashi Teppan Grill by cousins Jennifer Navejas, 27, and Philip Cheung, 23. Word quickly spread and the masses showed up. The hibachi messiah had indeed returned. Though many changes have come, the recipes are so authentic one cannot help but reminisce the old brick and mortar eatery.
Tell me the story of your background and opening this place.
Jennifer: After the family business Fuji’s closed we both started to work in food again. He went to work at Outback then I started working at Panda Express. I did my training and I asked Philip to come work and learn at Panda Express with me. We worked there about a year and really learned the fast food concept. It was a grueling couple of months, but it was the best experience ever. And that’s how we got our concept to do Hashi's! Then I worked at Tokyo Asia Fusion as a manager. But one day I called him and said, “Hey! Let’s start over!” We had our family recipes since both of our dads started Fuji’s. Plus we loved the Panda Express concept and the people. We love fast, casual food, which is how we developed our menu.
Where did the the name come from?
Philip: That’s an interesting story actually. We were originally going to call it “Teppanyaki Japanese Grill”, but we realized it was very typical and cliché. So we called one of our old family friends and told him our concept and he actually came up with the name the logo as well.
What does “Hashi" mean?
Philip: Hashi means chopsticks, hence the chopsticks in the logo!
I feel like one of the first things I notice when I walk into your restaurant is the aesthetics. Where did you come up with the design concept?
Jennifer: Philip gave me a lot of free rein on it. I would ask for his opinion on things and such. But there are a lot of restaurants that we really like, so we went to Dallas and looked at stores, then we also modeled many aspects after other restaurants. For example that table over there is from Jimmy Johns, the wooden benches are from Fuzzy’s, people who come out and greet is from Chick-fil-A, the wooden wall is an idea we got from Austin. So most of the design and colors are from our lifestyle and what we like. But the second restaurant will look way different!
Did you have any worries before opening?
Philip: We had a little bit of worry, naturally, but then we saw our loyal customers from Fuji’s and now we aim to please them and new guests as well. We didn’t think we would be as successful as we have been though.
Jennifer: We truly did not know we were going to be this busy! Every day we were surprised. On our opening day we had a number in mind for how many would show up, and we tripled it! But being on the strip next to these other great restaurants, there are just so many advantages as well!
What year did you open?
Philip: We opened in 2014.
Jennifer: Our one year anniversary is coming up and we are very excited about that!
What have been your biggest struggles?
Jennifer: Storage and the parking lot.
Philip: Aesthetics. And by that I mean the parking lot. It’s very hard to plan for the amount of people to come in if we don’t have any parking spots. We’ve had people park at the church down the street, and while that’s awesome that they are willing to do that, we want to be as accommodating as possible to our customers. It does hinder us, but at the same time there’s not much we can do. It’s really up to the landlords. Storage is also an issue since we don’t have the space for freezers to store food as needed. We can’t keep up!
Jennifer: I mean we are seriously running to HEB everyday because we don’t have room to store stuff. Every week we do about 4,000 to-go orders in boxes. And that’s just boxes, that’s not counting food!
Philip: We cut up 120 pounds of chicken everyday and then it’s all gone! So we’ll have to go to Sam’s Club or HEB to get more for tomorrow.
Apart from being owners, what would you each say your main role is here?
Philip: I would say we each take a huge role in whatever part of the restaurant we step into. Jennifer knows how to cook and I do as well, but I mainly stay in the back and help prepare the food. Jen takes care of the front and makes sure every guests feels loved and welcomed.
Jennifer: It’s a good partnership! If I need help in the front then he’ll help and if he needs help in the back I can do that as well. We both know how to do everything, but we stick to our strengths and what we are better at!
Is it safe to say you’ve grown up in the restaurant business?
Jennifer: Yes. Our parents have helped us a lot. As kids we would be stuck at the restaurant and inevitably learned everything. When we were younger we would sit on this freezer and just watch people and watch how things were done.
Philip: Yeah, we would sit there and watch how they worked for a long time.
Jennifer: Even as little kids we would make the soup and salad and roll napkins! We really did grow up in it. When we left Fuji’s it was just a weird feeling, but now we came back and it feels better. So now we just excited to grow!
So you are planning to open up a second location?
Philip: The plan is definitely in motion, but I think once we grasp the concept of what we are doing now, we can see and move forward on what we can do better for the next store. It will be similar, but completely different at the same time.
Hashi Teppan Grill is located at 3388 Rebecca Ln, Abilene, TX 79606.
Interview written and conducted by Casey Hatcher.
Story direction of APPP.
Photography by Casey Hatcher and APPP