Hokkaido brings taste of Japan

Annie Zhou, Jin Lin Chen and Wendy Chen recently celebrated the opening of their restaurant, Hokkaido, in Alabaster. (Special/Sandra Thames)

By SANDRA THAMES / Community Columnist

Sometimes when family members get an idea, it becomes a rolling stone and will not stop. Jin Lin Chen, Wendy Chen and Annie Zhou are such relatives.

After finalizing leasing arrangements on the old Pavillon location on U.S. 31 in Alabaster, they put together the drawings and plans they had done themselves. The place was gutted.

Who better to know how the buffet should be arranged than the people who are experienced in the food business? Who better to know the perfect layout and appliances for the kitchen than the cooks? The table arrangements are well known to these who wait on customers and the check-in and check-out areas need to be open and uncluttered. Of course, décor with attractive shiny tables, booths and chairs, with a self-serve line that goes on forever are important “eye candy” to the whole set-up.

But, we all know the success of any eatery is the quality of the food served and the let-me-assist-you smiles on the faces of those who work there. If the last two weeks of business are a good indicator, it stands to reason that Hokkaido (the name of a Japanese island) is headed for success.

Jin Lin Chen (the only part-owner who is male) has cooked his way from New York City to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and Miami. China First in Alabaster is also Chen’s. He said that nothing but the finest ingredients are served.

Wendy owned a restaurant in Calera. Annie is a beautiful young lady who seems to be everywhere all at once. Her English is very good. Retired Thompson Middle School teacher J. B. Denham has been a tutor for practically the entire family for years. In fact, these folks are like family to him. Cousins and children of the owners are expected to master all there is to know about the business.

If you are a sushi lover, then this is your place, as there are more than 12 kinds. In addition to the sushi bar, there is a pick-your-ingredients hibachi area where your food is cooked just as you request. A dessert area, soups, appetizers, seafood and Asian dishes are available each day. With a beautiful marble waiting area, chandelier and a stained-glass door, you are at once welcomed by staff. A seating capacity of 100 allows a lot of people to be eating at one time.

Prices are extremely reasonable. This hard-working family claims no hobbies or other interests. They are bent on business, making money to pay off construction debts and maintain their flourishing business. Perhaps ownership of several locations would be the fulfillment of their dreams and years of hard work.

Community columnist Sandra Thames can be reached by email at bobthames1942@yahoo.com.