Ten years ago, Sam Pak would have never considered himself entrepreneurial. Now, he is the owner of not one, but four popular NWA restaurants and one of the drivers behind an up-and-coming gourmet grocery store.
There's no denying it: Sam’s a businessman. But more than that, he’s a people person – the kind who likes to make sure every customer leaves with a smile. The kind who can think of nothing about himself that would surprise his employees because they already know him so well.
The kind who takes time out of a busy day to sit down with a stranger and talk through the past, present and future of Shogun and beyond.
What is the story of how Shogun got started?
“My parents came to the States from Korea in 1980. They actually first opened a restaurant down in Shreveport, Louisiana that didn’t do so well. After they had some failures with that restaurant, they ended up closing it down. Then they really had to start all over.
The poultry industry can be a good paying job if you put the hours in, so they decided to come up and work in poultry here in Fayetteville. Eventually they decided to open another restaurant, and that’s when they started Shogun.”
Had they dreamed about opening a restaurant before coming here?
“Not really, but I think restaurants are kind of a natural path for immigrants. I mean, even if you know nothing else about a culture, everyone needs to eat!”
Can you tell me about the personalities and timelines of your now 4 restaurants?
“We opened Shogun Fayetteville in 1994. It was a much smaller location. We quickly outgrew it and expanded two or three times and eventually opened our current location around 2008. We opened Shogun Bentonville in mid-2002, I think? I’m not 100% sure with that one. So those are our more traditional hibachi-style restaurants, where you sit around a grill with other strangers.
Wasabi came in 2005 or 2006, and that’s our sushi bar. And then Ginger Rice & Noodle Bar opened four years ago, so that was 2014. That was my ‘fast-casual’ concept, where you order at the bar and we bring it to the table.”
Did you plan to get involved in the family business?
“Growing up, I had worked at the restaurants helping out, busing tables, really doing a little bit of everything. But then I went off to school, I did a year at University of Texas in Austin, and then actually ended up coming back here to Fayetteville, to the University of Arkansas.
I graduated from U of A in 2007 as a finance major, and that’s when the financing market and housing market all crashed. Since finding a finance job wasn’t really an option, I decided I’d go with the next best thing [the restaurant] since I knew it so well.”
What’s next for you and your restaurants?
“We actually have plans to open another store. It will be a grocery store with our focus – focus on ‘good ingredients’ first. We want to source locally as much as possible, but overall, stick to more gourmet options. And our hope is to have a deli, sushi, ready-to-go meals.
It will actually be my in-laws’ business, and we’re getting them involved since running a grocery store is so different [from running a restaurant]. I’ll be working with them as a consultant. So really, we’re just expanding the family business, with more family.”
I can't help but smile at the way he says "with more family."
What has been the most surprising or difficult aspect of running a restaurant?
“Oh, everything’s difficult, really. The long hours, trying to raise a family, and balancing work with the long hours. Trying to make everyone happy – your customers AND employees – is not possible, but you do your best.”
On the flip side, what’s been most rewarding about owning a restaurant in NWA?
Without hesitation, he answers, “The people. The happy faces I get to see, both the ones I employ and my customers. It’s definitely rewarding to see the smiles on their faces.
We get a lot of second and third generations in here. They’ll say, ‘I remember when my grandpa would take me here to eat,’ or, ‘I remember your mom up there making the sushi.’ I actually get those comments a lot.
This has been such a supportive community, and it’s been really cool to grow up with the area. Northwest Arkansas has grown so much since we first started here, but the people have always been so inviting and welcoming.”
If you're cravin' Asian cuisine, be sure to check out the menus of Shogun Fayetteville, Shogun Bentonville, Wasabi, and Ginger Rice & Noodle Bar. Don't miss out and don't be afraid to download the Towny app (you can do it! whoever you are!). "Fave" Sam's restaurants + receive notifications when he posts deals! Easy breezy Towny app HERE for iPhone, HERE for Android to avoid FOMO.