Sansei Japanese Restaurant in Reedley

by Jim Mulligan

I can’t count how many times I’ve been in knockdown, drag-out fistfights about the number one best place to eat sushi anywhere in the continental United States. Well, maybe not fistfights, but pretty heated discussions with folks from metropolitan culinary hotspots including San Francisco, New York, and Las Vegas. Yes, I’ve eaten sushi in all three locales only to remain exuberant about the fact that my small, Valley town, nestled up against the Sierra Nevada foothills, can rightfully boast about world class sushi and Japanese cuisine. The authentic Japanese food, including the amazing sushi, is not really the story. Rather, it is the conduit for a wonderful American vignette about two brothers behind the sushi, and their hardworking immigrant parents whose dedication has allowed the brothers to create the mecca for sushi that is Sansei Japanese Restaurant in Reedley.


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When Amphay Somsavanh left his native Laos and came to California, it was not because of his aspirations to be a restaurateur. War and political oppression in the late 1970s and 1980s drove hundreds of thousands of Laotian refugees from their native lands to other countries across the globe. Some, like Amphay, came to the United States to start a new life. Just like Amphay, his wife, Ann Simmavong and her family escaped the dangerous social and economic conditions of Laos and also eventually made their way to California. After coming initially to Southern California, both Amphay and Ann’s families migrated to the Fresno area to farm vegetables much as they had done in their homeland. Like millions of immigrants to the land of the free and home of the brave before and after them, they embraced the opportunities afforded in the United States; they worked hard, gained skills, and took risks that, for them, have paid dividends for themselves and their children.
 Amphay and Ann Simmavong/Photo credit: Jim Mulligan

In 2003, Amphay and Ann purchased Sansei Japanese Restaurant from the previous owner partnership. Amphay was not a rookie sushi chef, he had previously worked at Yoshino’s in Fresno and had been working two years at Sansei in Reedley before the owners decided to sell. He had established his sushi making and cooking skills, but more importantly, he had the desire to work hard and make good food. Probably most importantly, he had the support of Ann. Together they, and eventually their young sons, labored to continue the tradition of quality Japanese food in Reedley. It did take time for them to see profits from their efforts. Ann melancholically reminisced about the beginning of the adventure, “For a couple of years we worked hard just to pay the bills.” Of course, if you’ve ever tried to get a table at lunch or dinner there nowadays, you know that they are probably paying their bills and then some, and they are still working hard.
Amphay Somsavanh: at the grill in the kitchen/Photo Credit: Jim Mulligan

Sixteen years after taking ownership of Sansei, Amphay and Ann have handed over the reigns to their sons Nikk and Tixx, and they are still running the popular restaurant at a full gallup. Nikk and Tixx, now fixtures behind the sushi counter and master food artisans, started right where their parents needed them most. As teenagers, when their parents acquired the restaurant, fifteen- and thirteen-years-old respectively, the boys washed dishes. Nikk recalled, “It was kind of expected that we help out, but they did pay us.” Their interest and their father’s encouragement quickly allowed them to move from the sink to the sushi counter. Amphay shared his basic sushi making skills with his sons; they added basic maki rolls like California rolls, tuna rolls, and cucumber rolls to the Sansei menu, which previous to their ownership only included traditional Japanese food prepared in the kitchen.
Tixx Simmavong slicing up some fresh salmon/Photo Credit: Jim Mulligan

Nikk and Tixx now run all aspects of the business, while their parents are still integrally involved in food preparation and serving the food. Both men are staples behind the sushi counter, but Nikk has put his FSU economics degree into action and manages much of the business aspects of the restaurant. Tixx puts his engineering schooling to good use by leading the intricate aspects of sushi design and preparation. But he didn’t always think so highly of sushi. He remembers, “At first I really didn’t like fish, I didn’t even like to touch it.” But today, just sit at the sushi counter the next time you are in; you will marvel at Tixx’s ability to take fresh ingredients and sauces, make delicate, precise cuts of the fish and vegetables, and masterfully put them together on a plate that often seems too beautiful to eat.
Nikk Simmavong working behind the sushi counter/Photo Credit: Jim Mulligan

If the only reason you go to or have ever gone to eat at Sansei is for the exquisitely presented and delicious sushi, then you have not been and will not ever be disappointed. I challenge you to find sushi and Japanese food anywhere in the Central Valley that even begins to rival the caliber of food prepared by Nikk, Tixx, and their dad. But as you enjoy the sumptuous and crispy teriyaki chicken in your bento box, or a masterfully assembled Shogun Roll with fresh wasabi, remember the back story. This thriving family-owned business is the epitome of the American dream and represents the best of the immigrant experience in our great nation.

Sansei Japanese Restaurant
1135 E Manning Ave
Reedley, California
Website: sanseireedley.com
Facebook: facebook.com/sanseiusainc

Jim Mulligan is a 6th generation California native, born and raised in Selma. He has been employed in Reedley on and off for the last twenty years. He married his college sweetheart, a Reedley-ite, Kristi. They now reside in Reedley with their five children. Jim loves to create Bonsai and travel as much as possible, both near and far. He is a member of the KCUSD Board of Trustees and is employed by Reedley College as the Tutorial Coordinator.






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