By Mia Finley
Born into the restaurant business, Jean Chiang, 43, didn’t expect to end up in it as an adult. The daughter of Charlie Chiang, owner of an eponymous 40-year Chinese restaurant empire, Chiang and her husband, Rock Fu, 47, opened Kizuna, a sushi and ramen restaurant in Tysons Corner, this May. Here she speaks about growing up in the hospitality industry, moving across the globe to get away from it—and eventually returning.
What was it like having restaurateurs as parents?
As an only child I always joked that my siblings were the other restaurants, all 16 of them. I learned my math skills taking orders at the carry out department. Back then there was maybe a calculator? But I had to tabulate costs and make change in my head ever since I started working at the age of 6.
I was 1 year old when my parents opened their first restaurant, so I didn’t really see them that much. My grandmother came over from Taiwan to help raise me, and my grandfather became head chef of their first restaurant. Can you imagine this retired air force pilot coming to the United States to make Chinese dishes? I guess nowadays you’d call him a foodie.
Did you gravitate to the restaurant business as an adult?
I ran away from the business. I kept saying I never wanted to go into the restaurant world, so I ran far: college at University of Michigan, job in corporate accounting and meeting Rock in Chicago. After we got married, we moved to Hong Kong for his start-up company, but when that went down, he spent long hours at the local bar trying to come up with his next idea. I would joke, “So how was brainstorming? OK, any time, what’s your brilliant idea?”
His brilliant idea was, guess what, to open a restaurant.
It was totally random. This man that I met, a sophomore consultant, ended up opening a restaurant in Hong Kong—3 Piggyz Grill with gourmet sausages. I’ll admit, it was fun.
When my mom found out, she flew over just to recruit us back into the family business. It worked, and we came back in 2002. Yes, I kind of got sucked back in, but I always say it was Rock’s fault. I never saw it coming.
What can people expect at Kizuna?
Our family currently manages PING Shirlington, Charlie Chiang’s in Centreville and Naples, Florida, and now Kizuna.
Here we wanted to do something different. We’ve done Chinese food for a long time, and we thought that the whole ramen concept was interesting. This place is definitely more modern, relaxed and idyllic. We’re right on Route 7, but once you get in here, you feel set back like an oasis. You don’t feel like you’re in the middle of Tysons Corner.
As for the food, so much is artistry. It has to appeal to all senses. People come in here pointing to a photo on their phone saying, “I want exactly this.” It’s so visual now. We mainly focus on the ramen, creating a signature broth from scratch for 16 hours. It’s no joke.
What was it like getting back into the restaurant business?
Well you gotta love it. This is not something you do just to pass the time; it is full-on commitment. When we came back in 2002, we opened three new places all before Rock and I had children. So yeah, you throw yourself in there because that’s the only way to do restaurants.
I don’t want [my kids, 5 and 9] involved and try to steer them away. You always hope for something different for your kids, and then of course the irony is that my eldest loves it. She loves this business. She said, “Mommy, when I’m old enough, I want to be a hostess at Kizuna,” so it really never ends. I told her we’ll talk about it. / Kizuna, 8221 Leesburg Pike, Vienna