From the Ozashiki front room with floor seating eye-level with Main Street to the kimonos draped on the wood-paneled walls to the atrium decorated with hanging birdcages, vegetation wall and hand-cut terracotta tiles, Manayunk's newest restaurant Yanako allows sushi diners to chose the experience they want.
Chef Moon Krapugthong has long been a Manayunk staple with and the former Mango Moon. With the help of a design team mostly comprised of Philadelphia University alumni and head chef Haruo Ige, Krapugthong created Yanako to be "simple but sophisticated with a simple price."
Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Krapugthong succeeded at Chabaa Thai in bringing an authentic experience while giving those less adventurous options. Mango Moon, billed as Asian fusion, attempted to be more ambitious, and ultimately closed. Krapugthong says the challenge she and Ige faced was finding the perfect blend with sushi.
"Ige can bring the true Okinawa spirit, but how do we bring it to the general public? So, we have food for those who want something familiar, but we made it with much better ingredients. Then we can rely on his passion for more challenging items, too," she said.
On Thursday, Yanako held a VIP preview, giving Manayunk an early taste of the fatty tuna, yellowtail, and speciality rolls—like the Yanako (shrimp tempora, avocado and asparagus topped with scallion and spicy tuna)—availble to the public Friday.
Krapugthong sought to make both the menu and space versatile. She wants customers to pop in for lunch (she boasted of free WiFi and accessible counter space for those on the go), hang around the sushi bar, settle in for big meals at the community table upstairs, or enjoy a romantic, BYOB dinner for two.
Jun Young Suh began working at Chabaa Thai as a server while studying architecture at Philly U. He organically rose through the ranks at that restaurant, and Krapugthong—who he calls a mother figure—appointed him general manager for both restaurants.
After 's Mike Cronomiz provided the conceptual design, it was Suh's task to transform blueprints into reality. Serendipity allowed for him to enlist two of his college peers, Kyle Blackwell and Todd Rubio, to physically build the unique space.
Their crowing achievement is the atrium—using the skylight and roofing tiles to make the 18-foot long, Monkey pod wood furnished sushi bar an inside-out space.
"We wanted the atrium to be the buzz space—this will make people come back here... On Manayunk, and on the Main Line, you won't get what we built here," he said.
The collaborative effort with the three designers and Krapugthong allowed the space to organically come about.
"She's incredible to work with. To have a client that has so many ideas but also lets your voice be heard is amazing," Blackwell said.
"It was great because she has these wild ideas. And, in some ways, it was our job to say, 'We can satisfy your needs without going crazy,'" Rubio said.
Olivia McGee, originally from Ireland, was tasked to design the staff's uniforms, decorative kimonos, and other wall coverings. She admired the design team's work through the recent heat wave, and credited Krapugthong for her infectious positivity.
"From the food, design, the uniforms, everything—it was a team effort and Moon brings that out in people," she said.
Krapugthong and the designers also noted Thursday that the space still has room for improvements—little imperfections (maybe unnoticeable to some) need work, they say. The heavy lifting is done, and Yanako will open to the public Friday.
The owner thanked all those involved for putting her ideas to light.
"I let my heart talk, and I can listen to (the designers), and they listen to me. We took risks, and we're not afraid," she said.
Visit the Yanako Facebook page for more information.