Ichiban Grill owner William Chan moved to Georgia with one proven idea for an Asian-themed restaurant and came back with another.
While opening four quick-service hibachi counters in the Atlanta suburbs, Chan had the chance to visit a number of restaurants specializing in the Viet-Cajun seafood boils that first became popular in Houston after Hurricane Katrina displaced Vietnamese immigrants living in southern Louisiana. The format’s now well established in Texas and along the West Coast, and rapidly gaining a foothold in big cities east of the Mississippi.
The hallmark of the style is a clear bag in which crawfish, shrimp or crabs are tossed with butter, garlic, lime juice, lemongrass and ground chili peppers, potatoes, corn and sausage are typically optional. The mix is so gloriously messy that eaters wear plastic bibs, and sometimes so spicy that they’ll don plastic gloves, too.
“I was like, ‘This is not bad, man,’ ” Chan says. “American people like seafood.”
Chan is now planning to open King Claw: Juicy Seafood & Bar, a Viet-Cajun restaurant, in the former Yokoso Japanese Steakhouse at 1734 Sam Rittenberg Blvd.
“West Ashley is kind of growing, and we don’t need another Japanese restaurant there,” he says.
According to Chan, Viet-Cajun is the latest Asian restaurant concept to achieve trend status, following Chinese buffets in the 1990s and Japanese steakhouses in the 2000s. “It’s a new concept for me, but it’s just a restaurant,” he says.
By the time Chan opens his newest restaurant later this year, he may have local competition in addition to The Seafood Pot, which last year started serving boiled and seasoned seafood in North Charleston.
J&C Crab, which already operates Viet-Cajun seafood restaurants in Florida, has announced plans to open a location at 7690 Northwoods Blvd., and Chan has heard about another chain with designs on a space near Tanger Outlets.
“I believe we’re the only one in West Ashley,” says Chan, who is just now embarking on a series of renovations and upgrades to the building. “Hopefully we’ll keep it like that, because this is a big risk.”