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FARMINGTON – After serving up Japanese fare from his eatery in Middlefork Plaza on Main Street  in the city's center for 21 years, lease problems have compelled owner and chef Cuong Tran to relocate to another strip mall on the east side of town.

On April 1, Tran reopened Teriyaki Chicken & Beef Bowl in Mickey Plaza, a strip mall perched above east Main Street on Mickey Drive that overlooks the Memory Gardens cemetery.  Before Tran moved in, the space was an Italian restaurant called Sauce and a dress shop before that.

Relocating to a sleepier side of town to relaunch his eatery after more than two decades surrounded by box stores and car dealerships has proved to be a smart move, Tran said.

"It's working. It's working good," Tran said on Thursday as he jumped around his new kitchen and prep area assembling a half-dozen orders at once.

Alone in the kitchen, Tran is often in motion, moving among a stove, deep fryers, a grill, rice cookers, large pots containing bubbling sauces and prep tables where he chops meat and vegetables. He also makes egg rolls and pot stickers by hand, forming them one by one in between shakes of a wok or amid the sizzle from the grill.

In the back, towering stacks of Styrofoam to-go cartons mask a wall. The restaurant has booths and tables for dining in, but Tran said the majority of his business is carry out. His wife, Char, and teenage son run the front of the house.

Cooking teriyaki dishes at the new spot makes for longer days since his move, Tran said. He used to start the day around mid-morning to get set up for the lunch-hour rush, but now he arrives a few hours earlier to keep up with the increased demand, he said.

"Before, I made maybe 40 pounds of chicken a day," he said. "Now, 60 to 80 pounds (each day)."

His eatery, which he opened in 1995, was the first teriyaki restaurant in San Juan County, he said.

Tran was born in 1970 in Saigon, Vietnam, the child of a Vietnamese mother and American military father who died in the Vietnam War shortly after he was born.

When a Vietnamese friend touted living in the U.S., Tran decided to move to Farmington in 1990.

He went to work as a cook at the original restaurant location, buying the business a few years later. He said he decided to keep the name and the menu the same, a choice he stands by at the new location.

Tran also offers curry chicken, beef or shrimp, sweet and sour pork or chicken and rice noodle dishes like stir-fried curry shrimp with noodles or yakitori, a Japanese type of skewered chicken grilled over a charcoal fire).

But Tran's teriyaki sauce is his specialty, he said, and it is a closely held recipe. Typical teriyaki sauce includes a blend of soy sauce, mirin (a Japanese sweet rice wine), sake and sugar. Tran marinates chicken, shrimp, beef and pork in it, ladles the sauce over vegetables and rice, and makes gallons of the basting sauce each day in a cooking pot taller than a golf bag.

"It's a secret," he said of his teriyaki recipe. "But (when customers) go to try it, they like it."

Wide as a kiddie pool and two feet deep, Tran's giant rice cooker delivers as much as 80 pounds of his signature blend of white and jasmine rice each day. Rice is a savory addition to Japanese fare, but it also serves a practical purpose — as a catch-all at the bottom of the plate to soak up any extra sauce, he said.

His teriyaki sauce is so popular with some customers, he said, that many of them ask if they can buy it.

"If I know them, I (will) sell them a small cup," he said. "When they're happy, I'm happy."
Farmington resident Madella Kannard has followed Tran's food to the new spot. On Thursday, she came by with her family for lunch.

Kannard said she has enjoyed her favorite dish — Tran's teriyaki chicken bowl (grilled teriyaki chicken and stir-fried vegetables over rice) — for years.

"I went to his old place a lot by the Motor Vehicles (Department in the center of town)," Kannard said. "It's really good food. That's why we're here."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621.

More info

What: Teriyaki Chicken & Beef Bowl

Where: 5600 Mickey Drive, Suite A, in Farmington

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

More info: Call 505-325-0111

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