Rumors of a family feud between owners of two local Japanese restaurants, Aki Sushi and Little Tokyo, were unsustained by the Orient’s investigation into the local restaurant scene.
Little Tokyo, arguably one of the most popular Asian restaurants in town, is owned by Anna Chen and Cuong Ly. It opened its doors in 2009, and for two years, had a monopoly over Japanese cuisine in Brunswick. Aki Sushi and Habachi opened just one block down the street in 2011. Aki is co-owned by Tina and Laura Cigri, Valami Ly and Bi Liu.
According to Charlie Chen, owner of Golden Chopsticks and Asian Garden, and Andy Zhang, manager of China Rose, Valami and Cuong Ly are Chinese-Vietnamese siblings who escaped to Vietnam during the Cultural Revolution in China decades ago.
When asked about the past relationship between Aki and Little Tokyo, the management of Little Tokyo said that the families are not related in any way but have “shared a very slight business relationship.” The Aki management refused to go into detail about their relationship.
The owners of Aki previously operated the restaurant Miyako in Freeport, but when business started slowing down because of the poor economy, the partners decided it was time to move. They noticed most of their clients came from Brunswick, and when they heard of an open space on Maine Street after the closing of O’Shea Restaurant and Cantina, they swiftly took the opportunity to relocate.
“We didn’t have the intention to be right next to Little Tokyo,” Tommy Ng, manager of Aki said. “We are not trying to steal other people’s business.”
Both China Rose and Miyako were owned by Cuong Ly at some point.
Brunswick, where just over 1 percent of the 20,000-person population is, is home to 15 Asian-inspired restaurants.
Take a stroll down Maine Street from the Quad and the first restaurant you will see is Lemongrass, a Vietnamese restaurant. Farther down you will find Asian Garden, Aki, Little Tokyo, Shere Punjab, Bombay Mahal, and at the end of the street, a sign that says “Little Saigon”—the newest member to enter Brunswick’s downtown Asian restaurant family. Not to be forgotten are the few along Pleasant Street—Asian fusion restaurant Tao, and Thai restaurants Happy Garden and Sweet Angel. Others include Oriental Garden, Bangkok Garden, Thai Villa, China Rose and Golden Chopsticks.
China Rose opened nearly two decades ago.
Asian Garden manager Ann Barwick said she believes the diverse group of residents brought here by the recently-closed naval base might have been Brunswick’s initial business appeal over other towns.
Theresa Chen, manager of Little Tokyo, said that once Asian restaurants had success in town, others naturally followed.
“The Asian way of business is that you never want to take the first risk but once you see a successful business model you want a piece of it,” Chen said. “You don’t want to be the first or the last.”
Though Japanese and Chinese food have historically dominated the Brunswick Asian cuisine, the latest trend seems to be Southeast Asian food. Gillian Watt and her husband Allen Hoang, opened Lemongrass in the summer of 2012, and another Vietnamese restaurant, Little Saigon, will open some time next month.
According to Watt, part of the appeal of Asian cuisine in Brunswick isdue to the sophisticated palate of the professors, college students, veterans and retirees.
“They have a wider array of tastes and are willing to be open-minded with food,” said Watt, adding she welcomes the arrival of Little Saigon because “competition is good.”