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Return to form: After year away, Sky Sushi back open

After year away, Sky Sushi back open

Photo provided by Curly Zhang Curly Zhang, co-owner of Sky Sushi in Houghton, is seen at the restaurant after its reopening this month. Zhang and her husband, co-owner Justin Li, were visiting family in China in early 2020 when the COVID-19 epidemic left them unable to fly back.

HOUGHTON — After more than a year away, the return to the daily grind of operating a restaurant takes a physical toll. But it’s a small price to pay to be back, said Curly Zhang, co-owner of Sky Sushi in Houghton.

“I feel really tired, but we’re happy to see all of our friends here,” she said. “And then we’re sort of, totally broke because we didn’t have any income for over a year. So coming to get some money back is pretty good.”

After the birth of their daughter, Yvonne, owners Zhang and Justin Li went to China in December 2019 to visit family. They had intended to return to the United States in February.

Those plans were foiled by the coronavirus. Flights out of China were barred, and China went into a strict lockdown in February and March.

Though tough at first, things gradually improved, Zhang said.

“Everyone wore masks, and they stayed home, not going anywhere, and things got better around May, and businesses started reopening,” she said. “Everywhere is open up, and people feel really safe about it in China.”

By September, they felt safe enough to travel for a couple of weeks.

Before leaving China, Zhang and her husband got vaccinated, although their daughter is still too young for the shots, she said.

They returned to the U.S. on Dec. 6, 2020 — “the first flight we could book,” Zhang said.

Since the restaurant opened in 2017, the Sky Sushi regulars have become friends, staying in touch through Facebook during the long year away, Zhang said.

“They’d always ask me when we were going to be back,” she said. “I’d just explain the situation to them, and they’d totally understand.”

Friends would check the building once a week to make sure everything was running, Zhang said.

Response since the reopening has been “overwhelming,” Zhang said. On the first day, they stopped taking orders around 5 p.m., four hours before closing.

People are willing to wait, because they know there’s only two people there, Zhang said.

“It’s not like fried rice, where we can do it in a big pot,” she said. “We make it one by one, so it really takes time. For Justin, he really wants to make sure of the quality of the food he makes.”

The restaurant is operating with reduced hours — noon to 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

For now, Sky Sushi will stay take-out only even once the dining restrictions are eased on Feb. 1. With her daughter unable to get the vaccine, Zhang wants to minimize the number of people who might be around her.

So Zhang is handling the server duties herself, though a takeout window at the front of the building. It means the customers don’t get to enjoy the presentation of their food on the plate. But as a small restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol, being takeout-only doesn’t hurt them much, Zhang said.

“It’s good for our customers and also good for us to keep everyone safe,” she said.

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