Chef Stacy Chen moves from rice to ramen at her new restaurant.
By Nicholas Barancyk, Photos by Nicolai McCrary
Stacy Chen was raised on Asian cuisine. Growing up in Taiwan, she was surrounded by fried buns, fish-ball soup, tofu and a bevy of other street food, and when her family moved to the U.S. in 1991, they brought the flavors of their homeland with them.
Eventually settling in Austin in 1997, the Chen family saw a need for an authentic Asian restaurant. Chen was just 17 years old at the time.
“We felt like there was something missing,” she says. “There [was]American style, Mexican style and vegetarian, but not really Asian-inspired vegetarian food.”
Veggie Heaven was their answer.
A few years after opening, Chen’s mother, Mei Chen, assumed management of Veggie Heaven because of complications with her husband’s health. During the next 16 years, she amassed a fiercely loyal customer base. It was these fans who motivated Stacy Chen to reopen the restaurant in 2016 after a two-year retirement.
If she was bringing Veggie Heaven back, she might as well do it with a bang. Her next restaurant, Yoshi Ramen, opened in January this year. Taking inspiration from her grandmother, who owned a ramen shop in Japan, Chef Chen wanted to bring comfort food to the forefront.
“It’s like that kind of feeling when you go to your grandma’s house and you eat that meal and it touches your soul,” she says.
Yoshi Ramen has cracked open a whole new palate for Chef Chen. While Veggie Heaven’s menu was limited to vegetarian and vegan food, Yoshi lets her explore the wide world of meat and dairy. It also allows her to incorporate a wider fusion of Japanese and Taiwanese dishes, which, in itself, is a tribute to the cultural fusion within her own family.
But Chef Chen will be the first to say owning a restaurant isn’t easy.
“You have to do everything and you have to be ready to put your heart into it,” she says.
This hustle, though, is also what she loves about the industry; it ties people together.
“It’s why I like having a restaurant,” she says, “because I feel like it brought our family closer. It’s like a huge family unifier for us.”
Her idealization of Yoshi Ramen is a place of comfort. One where “if you have a rough day and come in and eat our food, it will make you feel better.” It’s all because, for Chef Chen, the best part of the job is seeing the joy on people’s faces upon the first bite.
Chef Stacy Chen’s Tips for Budding Restaurateurs
No 1: Pick quality ingredients.
“Nowadays, it’s more about healthy food, organic and all-natural. The best ingredients will give you the best results.”
No 2: Know your location and audience.
“Every location is different. You kind of have to know your market and…have a good marketing team behind you to help you with it. You know, today’s age is different than back 20 years ago, where everything was on newspaper. Now everything is on social media.”
No 3: Set realistic expectations.
“Don’t expect a lot because you never know since the business is so competitive. But I think as long as you do your best, eventually, you will see results.”