20 Reno-Sparks restaurants take part in API Heritage Month event

Kurtis Tan is the general manger and head chef at Ijji Noodle House & Poke Don, which opened in 2019 in South Reno.

Kurtis Tan is the general manger and head chef at Ijji Noodle House & Poke Don, which opened in 2019 in South Reno. Courtesy Photo

Kurtis Tan was trying to avoid a career in the restaurant business.

Growing up with parents who worked in the industry, Tan saw firsthand how much time and energy they poured into serving Asian cuisine, managing employees and keeping their doors open.

“I saw how hard my parents, and a lot of my family, always worked in restaurants,” Tan recalled. “And I would keep telling myself, ‘do good in school so you don’t have to go into the restaurant industry.’”

With that, in 2014, Tan graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a business marketing degree. Working as an assistant marketing coordinator at the Peppermill while at UNR, he was promoted to junior marketing analyst upon graduation and wasn’t looking back.

The restaurant industry, however, kept tapping him on the shoulder — quite literally.

In 2017, his father asked if he was interested in being the general manager at his Ijji 4 Korean BBQ in Northwest Reno (his father, Truman, is part of an ownership group that now owns four Ijji restaurants in Reno-Sparks).

Tan decided to give it a shot. Soon after, he found he had a knack for running a restaurant. Moreover, he had a passion for it. And so, in 2019, Tan was offered to not only be GM of the newest Ijji location, Ijji Noodle House & Poke Don in South Reno, but also be the restaurant’s head chef.

Tan couldn’t fight his true calling any longer. Like his parents before him, he was pouring his time and energy into the restaurant business.

“For some reason, there’s something that kept drawing me back, even though I’m trying to stay away,” Tan said with a laugh during a phone interview. “But I got the chance to create a menu, and do my style and my recipes, and the food I want to serve.”

Specializing in ramen, Ijji Noodle House & Poke Don offers a mix of Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Hawaiian cuisines.

This month, Tan created a special “Chinese Beef Noodle Soup” that is being offered all May long as part of the Common Thread Asian Noodle Tour in Reno-Sparks.

Organized by Michael Tragash, Yelp’s senior community manager in Reno, the event is highlighting 20 Asian-owned restaurants, which have been offering special dishes for $10 or less (with a check-in on Yelp) in May, which is Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month.

“As supporters of each other, I wanted to find out how we can work together to get some visibility for these businesses, owners and organizations, especially in light of the rising anti-Asian sentiment and incidents of Asian racial hate in our country,” Tragash said in an email to the NNBW.

Tan, for one, told the NNBW he’s witnessed and experienced stereotyping and racism toward Asians since he first moved to Reno as a child.

“It’s something that we face on a day-to-day basis, and we still see that at the restaurant,” he said. “Personally, I just want to do what I know best in terms of food and share with my customers and make them more accepting of us.”

To that end, Tan, whose father is from China and mother from Hong Kong, feels The Common Thread is a great opportunity to introduce people to the culture and food that Asian-owned restaurants provide the community.

“I think, for us, it’s been a reminder that there’s nothing wrong with being Asian-owned, and we should be proud of being Asian-owned, especially with what’s going on right now,” Tan said. “We just try to provide great food, that’s all we want to do. We’re living the American dream and we’re doing what we’re best at as restaurant owners.”

Tan knows it might take more than a one-month event celebrating API-owned small businesses to change the attitudes some people have toward Asians in Northern Nevada and beyond.

“This is not a one-month, two-month movement kind of thing,” Tan said. “It will take tens of years to really change the mindsets. But it’s a start, and we’ve got to start somewhere.”

Hungry consumers interested in supporting businesses of 
The Common Thread can explore a variety of noodle specials, everything from bean thread noodles to pho to cheung fun, at a wide range of API-owned restaurants in greater Reno-Sparks.

Participating businesses include: Haru; The Coconut Downtown; Rice Box Kitchen; Silver Chopsticks; Viet Pho; Loco Ono; Bab Café; Kwok’s Bistro; Siu Asian Express; Maya’s South Indian Cuisine; Aloha Shack; Lanna Thai Café; Bangkok Cuisine; Moo Dang; Arario Midtown; India Kabab & Curry; Crawfish Asian Cuisine; Num Num Boba; Lolo’s Filipino Restaurant & Lounge; and Ijji Noodle House & Poke Don.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment