Layton • The restaurant sits on a wide street where the whir of speeding SUVs almost never stops. To the south, a stubble of spring weeds covers a vacant lot. To the north, a brown 1970s-era building is draped with vinyl signs advertising Asian massages.
But Tonys’ Grill and Sushi Bar is banking on the spot.
The Layton eatery is the brainchild of chef Tony Lei and manager Tony Ho. The two Tonys — “the apostrophe after the ‘s’ isn’t a mistake,” Ho emphasizes — opened their doors in January. During a lull between the lunch and dinner rushes last week, Ho said positive word-of-mouth has resulted in a successful start.
As its name suggests, the restaurant serves sushi and other Japanese-inspired dishes, which are listed in a thick, multi-page menu offers. The all-you-can-eat rolls are listed on a laminated piece of paper and include names like Moab, Rock Shrimp and Idaho Maki.
“The all-you-can-eat is most popular,” said Ho, as he flipped through the menu.
Ho enjoys interacting with customers and last week recommended the Moab, sushi rice topped with raw salmon, for anyone who likes raw fish. The salmon gives the rolls a cool, salty flavor, but avocado, parsley and mayo sauce temper the dish, keeping it mild but aromatic.
Minutes after serving the Moab, assistant chef Cesar Jimenez also produced the Sunset, a sushi roll Ho recommends for diners who want a sweet to end their meal. The Sunset includes shrimp, mango and mango sauce, with the fruit adding a light, almost tropical flavor.
Ho and Lei met years ago while living in New York City. Both men spent about two decades in the city, Ho after immigrating from Hong Kong and Lei after leaving south China and spending a few years in Utah.
According to Ho, he and Lei moved to Utah about eight years ago. Lei had made some connections in the state from an earlier stint along the Wasatch Front, and the towering mountains reminded Ho of his native Hong Kong. After relocating to Utah, Lei spent time running a Chinese restaurant in Midvale and Ho worked in technology.
But in mid 2012, the men learned of a historic building for sale in downtown Layton. At the time, it housed a Mexican restaurant, was painted white and had diamond-shaped windows. Ho said it looked like it hadn’t been renovated in years.
Ho and Lei gutted the building, refurbishing what they could and replacing everything else. They cut new windows in the second story, and tiled, painted and redecorated the interior. And they stuccoed the exterior in radiant orange, making the restaurant a focal point on the street.
“People who have been here before see the difference, and they cannot believe it,” Ho said.
Ho didn’t say how much he and Lei spent on the renovations and startup costs, but acknowledged that it was “quite a bit.”
After four months in business, Ho and Lei are optimistic about their prospects. And they count the location on a busy street corner 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City among the restaurant’s strengths. Among other things, they pointed to the nearby freeway off-ramp that sends cars their direction, and a planned apartment building project.
Walking by, it’s easy to see their vision. In addition to high projected population growth along the Wasatch Front, the streets of downtown Layton are lined with young, blossom-covered trees. The Frontrunner station sits just a block away. And even during the mid-afternoon doldrums, customers keep wandering in.
“I think the future is good,” Lei said, “because Layton is growing up.”
Tonys’ Grill and Sushi Bar
Hours • Monday-Thursday: 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; closed Sundays
Address • 22 N. Main St., Layton
Phone • 801-513-5148
Liquor license • Yes