Written by Sophie X. Song
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Diana Chang, Adriana DiBenedetto
Story shared by Mochi Sushi, a partner of the Very Veggie Movement: “Our vegetables and many ingredients have to be purchased every day so that we can make delicious food. This is especially true for vegetarian food.”
Yuan Zou, one of the new owners of Mochi Sushi, grew up in Sichuan, China, and worked in a southern locale for several years after graduation. In the early nineties, she had a chance to work solo abroad in Singapore, and ultimately moved to the United States in the 2000s. As Zou told Tzu Chi volunteers her story, she likewise expressed how she earned the life she had desired slowly by relying on her tenacious spirit, despite all the challenges.
“I came from the bottom, and I didn’t come from a family with an important background. I have worked hard on my own since I graduated,” Zou said proudly. “Later, in the United States, the easiest way to get started was naturally working in the food industry. I worked in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, as did my husband. We can earn a good life with hard work wherever we go.”
The sudden tumult brought forth by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 severely impacted the restaurant industry, making it difficult to maintain business. But it was during this time that Zou and her husband, Taihong Chen, overcame the odds and took on the responsibility of managing Mochi Sushi — a small Japanese restaurant in Sugar Land, Texas, which was popular among locals.
Persevering During the Pandemic
After taking over the restaurant at the end of 2020, the couple made some adjustments to the services. The state guidelines in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were few in Texas; some restaurants never closed their doors, and some saw a full house daily. But Zou and Chen insisted on upholding more meticulous standards for protecting the wellness of their customers, even if that meant less revenue. The sushi bar where customers must sit relatively close, for example, has been closed for half a year. In the dining area, Zou also rearranged the tables to maintain a considerable distance between customers.
“Fortunately, the takeaway and dine-in business are good,” said Zou. However, while the pandemic is still ongoing, the husband and wife team must continue to devote their energy to the smooth operation of the restaurant, rather than introducing any new projects for the time being.
The welcoming venue where Mochi Sushi is located has a history spanning nearly two decades. Its predecessor had been in business since 2000. A friend of Chen’s took over in 2013 and transformed it into the current Mochi Sushi, serving the community until 2020. During the pandemic, however, personal matters had urged their friend to ask the couple whether they’d be interested in taking on the restaurant.
“We have been in the food industry for so many years, and we have some good knowledge of this industry. We went to see the restaurant and read the accounts. I felt that even during the pandemic, the restaurant could still run well, so we decided to take over it,” Zou said amicably. The couple worked hard each day, infusing their heart and soul into the restaurant from that day forward.
“We are a small restaurant and cannot afford high wages,” explained Zou, “so it is particularly difficult to find employees during the pandemic. Therefore, the two of us take care of most responsibilities from purchasing to looking after the store.”
Mochi Sushi is located in a residential area, but despite the commercial space, guests at the restaurant are just like friends. The wonderful rapport cultivated amongst Taihong Chen, Yuan Zou, and their customers, drives the couple to keep doing their best, and they insist on always using fresh, high-quality ingredients. And indeed, this heartfelt effort has become their signature and their secret to success.
“Our vegetables and many ingredients have to be purchased every day so that we can make delicious food,” Zou stated. “This is especially true for vegetarian food. If it is not fresh, customers will definitely taste it.”
Many sushi restaurants are originally pescatarian, but because of their interest in vegetarianism, Zou and Chen also serve foods that suit vegetarian and vegan customers. When it comes to vegetarian meals in the restaurant, Zou is the expert. There’s vegan sushi, vegan ramen, vegetarian tempura, and more. When making meals for their guests, she particularly pays attention to each person’s dietary preferences, taking special care to ensure customers are aware of the ingredients in their dishes. “If it’s a vegan customer,” Zou explained, “I will remind them that there are eggs in the vegetarian ramen; I might recommend our truffle fried tofu and fresh mushrooms.” And these thoughtful reminders have helped guests with various diets feel at ease at Mochi Sushi. Although truffle oil is a relatively pricey ingredient, staying faithful to making good food outweighs the cost for the couple.
Valued Partners in Vegetarianism
In addition to work, Chen and Zou also regularly prepare vegetarian meals together at home. Chen grew up in a traditional Taiwanese household, and eating vegetarian meals was commonplace since he was a child. Carrying the tradition forward, he continues to keep special foods, like vegetarian fish steaks, at home to cook with Zou.
“Now, all ingredients have vegetarian alternatives, and they can be made equally as delicious,” Zou said.
When Tzu Chi volunteers contacted Chen and Zou asking if they’d like to join the Very Veggie Movement as partners, they eagerly accepted the invitation. Now, guests at Mochi Sushi who’ve joined the Very Veggie Movement will be able to receive a discount of 5% off on all vegetarian items at the eatery, such as their delicious Veggie Sushi Assortment.
“The United States is an inclusive society, so we must try our best to meet the requirements of our diners,” said Zou. This customer-oriented view also gives the couple full confidence in the future of the restaurant, and they look forward to making vegan and vegetarian alternatives more widely available alongside Tzu Chi.
Learn more about the Very Veggie movement and join us by transforming your diet into a vegetarian one, or take part as a partner of the movement!