Zhen “Edmund” Yang, new owner of the Gastrognome, plans a steady course as he moves the flagship restaurant forward. Yang took over from longtime owners Lanny and Jane Wagstaff on Feb. 20.
“I am asked by every customer if I am going to make changes,” said Yang. “What I tell them is ‘If this is so successful, why would I need to change it?’ People like our restaurant, our service and our food.”
Yang said he might introduce new items on the specials menu. “Some fusion cuisine such as seared sesame crust Ahi tuna, beef stir fry with a special Chinese sa cha sauce and maybe a curry coconut shrimp dish.”
Yang knows his international cuisine. A native of Beijing, China, he served as executive chef in one of Beijing’s largest and most luxurious hotels, the Hotel Nikko New Century Beijing, part of a joint venture with Japan Air Lines. “We served French cuisine, that’s what I started with,” said Yang. “And of course Chinese and Japanese cuisine as well. We had over 70 chefs in the kitchen.”
In 1996 Yang and family moved to Vancouver, Canada, where he worked at the Vancouver Hyatt Regency as a chef. Two years later Yang and his wife started their first business, a food court in a busy shopping center. After four years they bought a restaurant on Vancouver Island. Eventually they bought a franchise restaurant, Smitty’s, the largest family restaurant franchise in Canada and, at the time, the largest restaurant on the island.
After spending 16 years in Canada, they began driving through the United States looking for a restaurant purchase opportunity and a warmer place to settle. The Yangs bought a Chinese restaurant in Riverside but continued to look for somewhere with a small town ambience. “We wanted to find a better business,” said Yang. “When Lanny [Wagstaff] put the Gastrognome on the market, we just took it. It was so established after so many years with the Wagstaffs.”
Yang commutes every day from Riverside at this point. “We’re currently looking for a house in Idyllwild.” Yang and his wife have two sons, one 24 who is studying philosophy at a university in Canada and a 13-year-old at school in Riverside.
“I really enjoy this small town,” he said. “Even with some new additions on the special menus, we will still keep everything as before.”