Royal Buffet has been a staple in downtown Chehalis for six years but in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, owner Han Jeong is changing his restaurant’s menu, name and style of service.
The newly-named Royal Sushi & Teriyaki is transitioning from a buffet-style restaurant to a sushi and teriyaki restaurant. Jeong said that to his knowledge his restaurant will be the first in Lewis County to have a full sushi bar. Jeong now gets to share over a decade of experience as a sushi chef with the community.
Jeong realized that the buffet style of service was not safe for employees or customers in the age of social distancing.
“We decided to close the buffet business as the COVID situation kept going on, it was clear that open food and the shared big spoons, even with gloves, we could not guarantee the customer’s safety,” he said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. and restaurants had to close Royal Buffet remained closed for three months and Jeong said he had to lay off four of his employees. The three-month closure was difficult for Jeong and he knew he had to make a change if he wanted his business to survive the pandemic.
“During those three months, we felt depressed, and like we lost everything. We couldn’t keep all of our employees,” Jeong said.
The restaurant is currently undergoing various renovations, the most important being the construction of the refrigerated sushi bar, which should be complete in early November. Jeong’s new menu includes a section titled “Old Buffet Favorites” for the customers that have grown to love what was offered before the restaurant change. There are eight different Teriyaki options made with a sauce that Jeong said is cooked traditionally for about three hours. Customers can choose from nine different sushi rolls and more options will be added once the sushi bar is complete.
“It’s not easy for me to brag and say ‘oh, we’re great’ but I am very proud of our menu and the quality of our food,” he said.
Jeong said that the quality of this food and his ingredients are his top priority and that no matter what style of restaurant he operates, if his food is high-quality, customers should be happy.
Jeong moved from South Korea to California in 2003 where he worked as a sushi chef until 2015, when he moved to Chehalis with his wife, Aii, and his two children. Jeong earned his U.S. citizenship two years ago. He became a small business owner in the community after opening Royal Buffet in downtown Chehalis.
“My wife and I prefer the countryside, small-town for our kids — I am not a big city guy,” he said.
While living in California he worked at a popular restaurant and worked his way up to head sushi chef. He said his work and his former boss, who placed a huge emphasis on the customer’s satisfaction, prepared him to own his own restaurant in Chehalis. Jeong said he doesn’t think of himself as a boss but more as a friend that focuses on teamwork with his staff.
Over the past six years, Jeong said he has built relationships with customers and has many regulars that have supported his restaurant through its transition. He said he is also really grateful to his family who has helped out with running the restaurant when times were tough.
“It’s a hard time for everyone. I really appreciate the whole community and the customers who have supported us,” Jeong said.
Royal Sushi & Teriyaki is located at 575 N. Market Blvd. in Chehalis — open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Monday and temporarily closed on Thursday).