By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Jack Young doesn't mind when customers wrinkle their noses and pick gingerly at the food he prepares.
A sushi chef at the new Grand Buffet restaurant at 7690 Market Street, he says Americans are typically squeamish about the rice and fish dish at first. He enjoys introducing first-timers to the traditional Japanese delicacy.
"They're interested, but they don't want to eat it. I tell them to try it," said Young, 28, grinning as he rolled thin slices of raw salmon around bite-sized seasoned rice cakes.
Colorful cuisine: Arrayed on platters on the counter in front of his preparation area were samples of his work, colorful hors d'oeuvre-sized sushi samples featuring octopus, shrimp, caviar and crab meat wrapped with ingredients like rice, seaweed, cucumber, avocado and sesame seeds.
Michael Chen, who owns the Grand Buffet with partner Robin Zheng, said they're counting on the sushi bar and Young's culinary skills to help the restaurant stand out in the lineup of competitors along Boardman's commercial strips.
Speaking through an interpreter, Chen said he chose the location a few blocks south of the Southern Park Mall, even though two other eateries tried doing business there and failed. "If you have the best food, you always get customers," he said.
Grand Buffet also features an open grill where diners can put together their own combination of meat or chicken, fresh vegetables, oils and spices for a chef to prepare as they watch.
The restaurant offers Chinese and American buffets, desserts and a large salad bar, all included with the grill and sushi bar for one price. The dining room seats 350, and there are two party rooms to seat groups of 60 and 30.
Largest endeavor: A Chinese immigrant, Chen said he spent several years learning the restaurant business in China and Hong Kong before coming to the U.S. 13 years ago. He and his partner own two small Chinese restaurants in Cleveland and a Chinese buffet in Mayfield Heights, a Cleveland suburb, but the Boardman business is the largest.
"It's his dream coming true," said manager Tina Xu, who served as Chen's interpreter during an interview at the restaurant Friday. He said he understands English but feels more comfortable speaking in his native Mandarin Chinese.
Chen said the partners considered several Mahoning Valley locations but chose the Market Street spot because there are no other large Chinese buffet restaurants nearby.
He said sushi is a specialty served at few area restaurants, and an Internet search seemed to confirm the statement -- out of 18 sushi bars in the Cleveland-Akron-Canton-Youngstown area only two were listed in the Valley.
Buffet fan: The Japanese treat has already made Dennis Orr of Boardman a Grand Buffet fan. He said he'd been searching for two years for a place to eat the sushi he learned to love while visiting his son in California.
"Once you try it, it's unbelievable," he said.
Joe Joseph, also of Boardman, said he developed a taste for sushi when traveling. The owner of Joseph Painting Contractors Inc., he learned about the sushi bar when his company did some painting there to prepare for the opening and he wanted to return to try it.
"It's very good," he said, after asking the chef to prepare him two pieces of sushi, one with shrimp and one with crab.
Young said the idea that sushi is made up of raw fish is a misconception.
Mostly cooked: While he's used several types of raw fish to prepare sushi in Hong Kong and New York City, he said he uses mostly cooked varieties here.
The shrimp, octopus and crab are cooked -- only the salmon is raw, he said, and that is kept cold and made to order. "Many Americans are afraid to eat raw fish," he explained.
In Japan, Young said, consumers feel differently. "At some Japanese restaurants the fish will be swimming and the customer will pick one," he said, with a grin and a broad slicing motion. "The cook will actually cut off its head right then and serve it."