Building an empire: Starkville's Wang finds success with sushi, hibachi restaurants

February 28, 2011 10:24:00 AM

Tim Pratt -


Since Billy Wang moved from China to the U.S. 12 years ago, he has worked in sushi restaurants all over the country, from New York to Boston to Missouri. 


As part of his latest endeavor, Wang, 33, owns and operates Umi Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar in Starkville. In a town where barbecue is king, Wang has nearly monopolized the sushi and hibachi market from his restaurant in Middleton Court Shopping Center.  


"We do really well here," he said.  




How did you end up in Starkville?  


I came here for a business opportunity. I helped open a sushi restaurant on Stark Road. We were in business for almost three years and then we moved to this location here. For this restaurant, we''ve been open a year and eight months, but I''ve been in Starkville almost six years. 




Did you come to the U.S. to go to school, or did you come over here to work as a chef? 


I went to school for about a year (in New York) and I needed to work, so I took a job as a sushi chef.  




Where all have you worked? 


I worked in Boston and New York for about seven years. Then I ran a business in Missouri and then moved to Starkville. We hoped to open more businesses. Last year we opened one in Tupelo, but this one has been open almost two years. 




What''s the secret? How do you run a successful sushi business in the South? 


You have to order really good fish. We get fresh fish from Houston and Atlanta. We get deliveries four times a week. 




What are some of your specialties or some of your more interesting items here? 


The most popular item is the crunchy shrimp (with snow crab and shrimp tempura). That''s our most popular roll. We also have the shaggy dog roll (shrimp tempura topped with spicy crab, shrimp sauce and eel sauce) and the volcano roll (shrimp tempura and cream cheese toped with spicy crab and tempura flake). Those three do the best, along with the Mississippi roll (with yellowtail, red snapper, snow crab and cream cheese deep fried with eel sauce and spicy mayo).  




Do you do much cooking anymore or do you work in more of an administrative capacity? 


I just kind of run the business now.  




What do you enjoy about the business? 


People love it. Everybody has fun here. 




What are some of the difficulties of running a business? 


Right now, everything is fine, but when you start the business, it is very tough. It''s hard to find a very good chef, but we have very good sushi chefs and hibachi chefs. Everybody says they are very good.  




How many chefs do you have here? 


We have five hibachi chefs, four sushi chefs and three kitchen chefs. A lot of helpers. Our sushi chef today (Peter Huang) came here from New York City. He''s from China originally. He has worked everywhere. He has worked for me for more than three years.  




Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work? 


I like to travel. Also, finding good restaurants. I like to find all different kinds of foods. 




You like trying other international restaurants? 


Yes. I like Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, real Chinese, Greek. I just love good food.