The Sushi Man: Chef Ken Homan brings his own twist on Japanese cuisine to Prescott
Before serving any plate of sushi at his modest Prescott restaurant, Chef Ken Homan must taste test the fish.
Call him old-fashioned, but the practice is one of the things that sets Homan apart from his contemporaries.
The same could be said of his background.
Born in 1957 in Osaka, Japan, which is nestled in the middle of the Asian Pacific island nation, Homan was raised in a sushi hotbed, where he would learn the trade.
These days, you’ll find Homan behind the sushi counter at Sushi Man restaurant, 1355 Iron Springs Road, across from the Village at the Boulders shopping center in Prescott, preparing Japanese meals of all sorts.
Homan serves everything from raw tuna, whitefish and salmon to shrimp, mackerel and yellowtail. When he carefully rolls his sushi, he puts pieces of sliced avocado in it.
“I’m 100 percent Japanese,” Homan said proudly from the restaurant this past week. “I know about fish — how to test it and take care of it. They [customers] don’t know [much about] the quality and quantity. Before I serve it, I’ve got to test it. If I taste something wrong, I’ll know. It has to be fresh.”
Homan’s Prescott restaurant has been open since late March, and yet it’s struggled to gain traction. It’s a bit surprising, especially when one considers that Prescott has only one other true Japanese restaurant, Fujiyama, in the Frontier Village shopping center off Highway 69.
Homan’s fish is shipped from Japan to a California distributor, which in turn sends the fish to Phoenix and then on to him.
While Homan makes sushi, his wife, Yuri Homan, occasionally works as a hostess. She wears a well-kept kimono and enjoys sharing Japanese culture and its traditions with customers, even though she doesn’t speak much English.
On Aug. 6, for example, Yuri placed two small, shallow dishes brimming with salt at the front doorstep of the restaurant, which has 15 tables out front and 11 at the sushi bar. The Japanese believe salt has cleansing power and preserves one’s purity.
“The culture and education are different [in Japan],” Homan said.
“It’s hard to understand.”
AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY
Homan immigrated to the United States in 1980, when famed Japanese restaurant company Benihana hired him as a sushi chef. They helped him get a green card so that he could move to Miami, where he worked until 1992.
It was exactly the break the then-20-something Homan craved. For several years, he had wanted to leave Japan to pursue the American Dream. He started making sushi at age 17. Six years later, he was ready to move on.
“The U.S. was a dream,” said Homan, who speaks broken English. “I got the chance and I wanted to grab it.”
In 1992, Homan relocated to a Benihana restaurant in Phoenix.
Years later, he opened his own restaurant, which he named Sushi Ken. Homan owned and operated the popular Sushi Ken until he sold it earlier this year.
In 2018, Homan traveled back to Osaka to visit his mother, 87-year-old Kazumy, and his 64-year-old sister, Setsuko. Homan has a fondness for Japan, but he still wouldn’t ever want to leave the States.
“I did not know English to come here,” said Homan, proving his resolve. “I learned from customers.”
Here in Prescott, Homan said he hopes to make a niche for himself with his unique brand of ramen noodles, Pork Katsu Don Bowl, and Japanese curry dishes, which are harder to prepare unless you have experience.
Homan wants to eventually hire a chef whom he can teach to cook on the Teppanyaki iron grill so 0he can continue concentrating on sushi. He said he currently has two people working during lunchtime and three people on the weekends.
The atmosphere is drastically different from a Benihana restaurant, where Homan had a staff of 20. However, Homan hesitates to complain about his current circumstances.
He fondly remembers when a Benihana manager approached him all those years ago in Osaka about relocating to America.
“I cooked for them, and I was lucky,” Homan said. “Now I am a U.S. citizen.”
IF YOU GO
Sushi Man is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays. The restaurant’s closed on Mondays.
Homan accepts carryout orders, although he doesn’t deliver. For more information, call Sushi Man at 928-227-2151 or visit: yelp.com/biz/sushi-man-prescott.