Written by Henry Culvyhouse.
Today, a Marshall University graduate student will be opening his first business — the same day he will do his final presentation for his Master’s degree in business administration. Talk about a scheduling conflict.
Located at 322 Tenth Street, Shangri-La is the newest addition to Huntington’s downtown Asian food scene; and after more than two and a half months of preparation—all while taking his graduate classes, mind you—owner Yangbo Song says he now knows about time management and about juggling multiple demands on his attention.
Song is very aware that within walking distance of his restaurant are the Japanese steak houses Hibachi and Taste of Asia, plus Surin of Thailand. By car, it’s a short jaunt to the Pho Noodle House, which offers hot noodle broths. A few blocks in the other direction is Nawab Indian cuisine.
Song said he plans to introduce Huntington foodies to the spicy and sweet flavors of authentic Szechuan-style Chinese cooking, and he’s betting that once people get a taste of it, they will return for more.
“We use dried chili peppers, green peppers and jalapeños, but the rest of our food is sweet and sour, which is better for American tastes,” Song said. A traditionally spicy form of Chinese food, Song described Szechuan-style Chinese cooking as “50-to-70 percent hot.”
A native of southeast China, Song said he chose to go to college in West Virginia because the mountains reminded him of home. He says he picked Marshall University and Huntington because of the Huntington Tri-State Airport.
Song has always enjoyed cooking, especially the “hot-pot” style, wherein friends and family sit around a table and drop meats and vegetables into a boiling soup broth “It’s something we love to do in the winter time when it’s cold outside, because the pot gets very warm,” said the young man.
Speaking in a side room that he dreams will be a future study parlor for students and faculty at Marshall University, Song said he hopes to one day serve a collegiate clientele coffee, soft drinks, and deserts while they grade papers, research for finals, or blow off steam by playing card games.
As a member of Marshall University’s INTO international student program, Song received his Bachelor’s degree in computer science in May 2016. Song may have known how to code, but he didn’t know how to sell himself. He recalls, “After I graduated, I decided to find a job, but the professor said an MBA would be a very good way to learn to market my product,” Song said. “But if I owned a computer company, I would need to know lots of different people, not just engineers.”
What’s one thing lawyers, bankers, and sales people have in common? They all need to eat, Song quipped “I figured by opening a restaurant, I could establish these business contacts and get to know the community better,” he said. “I want to introduce people to Chinese food. Most of what is here now is 70 to 80 percent American, 20 to 30 percent Chinese.”
Vowing to cook “100 percent authentic whenever possible,” Shangri-La will offer dishes such as steamed chicken with chili sauce, dry-fried duck, braised pig’s feet, and even griddle bullfrogs which Song says are only available through Chinese vendors.
For diners wanting to just familiarize themselves with more exotic flavors, Song recommends the sweet and sour pork rib. “American people love sweet and sour foods, so the ribs are the most suited for an American taste,” Song said. “It’s a good way to transfer over to authentic Chinese food.”
While the word Shangri-La has been synonymous with paradise since the release of James Hilton’s 1933 novel Low Horizon, the concept has its source in ancient Chinese tradition.
Song said he wants to bring a culinary paradise to Huntington diners, plus give them an easily pronounceable name. “How can people know where to go if they can’t pronounce it?” he asked, with a smile. “Shangri-La is perfect.”
And as for today? Song said he might be a little jittery.
“I have the final presentation, plus I’m opening this restaurant; and I expect there to be a crowd,” Song said. If Mr. Song’s past history of success is any indication, he’s more than up for the job.
Shangri-La’s doors will open to the public at 5 p.m. this evening. After today, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. of Fridays and Saturdays.