First-generation Japanese immigrant Bon Yagi is somewhat of a local hero in Manhattan’s East Village, where he opened a sushi restaurant in 1984. More than 30 years after, he set up nine more, all of which have introduced New Yorkers to the diverse cuisine of Japan.
Born in 1948, Yagi arrived in the United States and worked as a dishwasher in Philadelphia before he was promoted to a short order cook.
“In my mid-twenties, I was traveling to Florida and cross-country, and I was searching for a good place to start a business. I said, ‘Maybe one day, I would like to do a business in New York’,” Yagi recalled.
After opening sushi restaurant Hasaki in 1984 on East 9th Street, Yagi launched a string of Japanese-themed restaurants, bars, and bistros in the neighborhood under the T.I.C. Group Restaurants.
Confident of the authenticity of its food and ambience, T.I.C. adopted the slogan: Enjoy Japan Without Airfare.” For his dedication to his locale, Yagi has been dubbed the “Emperor of the East Village.”
“I’m not a Harvard graduate and wasn’t top of the class. But I was always curious, which is very important. You have to watch the demand and ask what is the trend,” he said.
Aside from Hasaki, the group also operates Yonekichi (rice burgers), Hi-Collar (sake bar, coffee shop and tea room), Sobaya (soba and seasonal cuisine), Cha-an (Japanese teas and sweets), Sakagura (sake and Japanese tapas), Otafuku x Medetai (takoyaki, okonomiyaki and medetai); Shabu Tatsu (shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, Japanese BBQ), Kiosku (house-blended coffee and bento boxes), Curry-Ya (Japanese curry); Rai Rai Ken (ramen and gyoza) and Sake Bar Decibel (sake and Japanese tapas).