Owner Ken Hsu brought to Williamsport a "gem" when he opened the Japanese restaurant Ichiban's five years ago.
Having moved from China as a chef to work in New Jersey, Hsu managed to eventually own his own restaurant here in Williamsport after finding the city to be a "viable area."
The Ichiban's franchise has two locations: Williamsport and Oakhurst, New Jersey.
“Jay” Cheng, hibachi chef, entertains his customers as he prepares their meals.
From left: Jim Rowell of Harrisburg, Rick Pierce of Hershey, and Renee Sluzalis of city, enjoy a meal at Ichiban’s during lunch hour.
While most would assume that a franchise business would have set menus, assistant manager Nick Falvo assures that the restaurant has creative control over its menu.
Many of the drinks off the menu are only found here, Falvo said, such as the Ichiban's Iced Tea and a drink dedicated to the Dave Matthew's Band. Ichiban's does have a liquor license as well with a full bar, providing customers with an array of Japanese cocktails.
Ichiban's may be famously known around the area for its hibachi style of cooking, when chefs entertain customers with their intricate, fancy methods of cooking and serving food directly onto patrons' plates - sometimes even directly into their mouths.
"Sixty percent of our business is hibachi," said Nick Falvo.
Hibachi chefs are hired at already having three years experience. While there is the preferred experience, those who show the ability to perform hibachi cooking are brought in for in-house training.
There is the concern for safety, Falvo said. The chefs need to command utensils in a style of cooking that can be dangerous.
Sushi chefs are typically brought in at a minimum of five years experience. No matter the style of cooking, every chef needs to be aware of food allergies and how well prepared the food is done to the tastes of customers.
Presentation and the handling of food appropriately is also important, Falvo added.
"It's different than being a line cook in other restaurants," Falvo said in regards to hibachi cooking. "A person can come in one day and have a shrimp thrown in their mouth, and the next time, they won't."
Every hibachi chef, he said, has their own style.
The other 40 percent of business is sushi.
According to Falvo and manager, Candy Hsu, there is a big misconception when it comes to sushi - the notion that all sushi is raw fish. However, only about 40 percent of the sushi served at Ichiban's is raw fish, he said.
"We have cut roll sushi that is non-raw or vegetable," Falvo said.
The uncooked sushi, he added, does not have a "fish taste" since it is uncooked. Because of its blandness, Falvo said that soy sauce and wasabi goes well with it.
Furthermore, several Japanese traditions accompany a person's meal while dining at Ichiban's. Falvo said that guests are presented with hot towels to wash their hands prior to eating and given sake - a Japanese rice wine. The other main tradition is having the chef serve directly onto the person's plate.
Customer response to Ichiban's is usually great, Falvo said, noting that most clients find themselves "amazed" at the quality of food and service.
"The quality of our food is comparable to that of restaurants in New York City and Los Angeles," Falvo said.
Falvo said that many of the people that come to eat at Ichiban's "drive a fair distance" - coming from places such as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area for a "big city taste," and "remark on the high quality of our food and exemplary service."
"We know the quality of our food," Falvo said. "We don't have to sell our food (to the customers)."
Falvo said that all the sauces are home made. Also, the highest quality of food that can't be found here for food preparation in the area is brought in from Japan.
Ichiban's also offers anything on their menu for a to-go service, but they don't deliver.
Ichiban's is located at 1800 E. Third Street and can be reached at 323-8800.