James Park (left) is the G.M. at his family's restaurant, Shiki | Ruta Smith

Family First

Shiki owner Hae Gon “David” Park is a firm believer in traditional Japanese cuisine that allows the ingredients to shine, and for the last 20 years, the restaurant’s basic decor has reflected that approach. The pandemic, however, led David and his son James, Shiki’s general manager, to embrace change and completely revamp the restaurant’s interior, which features a new sushi bar, floors, furniture and custom decorations. 

“At first, it was really scary because we didn’t know what was going to happen,” James said. “The restaurant had to be closed, so if any work was going to be done, it was going to be now. I think sometime in July was when we really put our foot down and said, ‘OK, we have to start using this time to fix the place up.’”

Photo by Ruta Smith

David opened Shiki at 334 E. Bay St. in 2001 after moving to Charleston from New York City, where he worked at esteemed sushi restaurants like Yuraku, serving as head sushi chef for five years. The chef prides himself on sourcing the highest-quality ingredients — according to James, his father’s handling of the fresh catch is what sets Shiki apart. 

“He does a really good job taking care of (the fish). We all have access to the same suppliers and what not, so I think a lot of the importance comes down to how the chef takes care of it, manages the inventory and things like that,” James said. 

Diners who come in for fresh sashimi, nigiri or a roll can grab a seat at the brand new sushi bar, just one of many upgrades the Parks have made since July. 

“We took out the carpet and put these wood floors in,” James said. “We painted everything — the wood panels, the walls, the window trim. We got pretty much all new furniture, new tables, and we’ve got a new banquette coming in.” 

Photo by Ruta Smith

According to James, Shiki’s key new design element is the custom-made wooden slats, crafted by New York artisan Wang Pu, that are scattered throughout the restaurant. The decorative and functional pieces give Shiki the striking decor that’s been missing for the last 20 years, James said. 

“I think for us, it was appropriate to make all these changes,” he said. “(Customers) called it charming, but I don’t know if it was exactly that.” 

Shiki’s new look won’t be met with sweeping menu changes, but there could be a few new additions. 

“I really want to do ramen, more curries and katsu sandos,” James said. “But, we’re not going to change the menu too much. We want to stick to what we’ve been doing.” 

Shiki’s expansive menu features stir-fried noodles, sushi rolls, teriyaki chicken and more, but David specializes in nigiri and sashimi, serving raw bites of over 20 different types of seafood.  

“I think people come here for our salmon,” James said. “If they have it, we always buy it from the Faroe Islands — they’re known to be one of the better suppliers of salmon. If not there, we get it from Scotland.”  

Photo by Ruta Smith

The family owned and operated business has stood the test of time — James remembers the days when Blockbuster was a few doors down and the waterfront condos behind the restaurant were vacant land.

 And while the Parks have kept Shiki afloat with takeout-only service throughout the pandemic, the restaurant has not set a reopening date for their revamped dining room. 

“When we open, we want to do half capacity first until the vaccines really triple down,” James said. “We’ll have everyone separated.” 

For James, who grew up in the restaurant, the first day customers see the new-and-improved Shiki will be an unforgettable experience. 

“My dad works here, my mom works here, this is more home to us than home,” James said. “Some of our customers that our regulars are like family to us, so it was pride that really motivated us to make this place as good as it can be.”  

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