“My family has been in the restaurant business for nearly 40 years. We don’t do this to win awards; we do it to make our customers happy,” Jeon says.
Jeon (pronounced gee-on) opened Sansu in the Hannah Plaza in East Lansing in 2003 in a small little sliver of a suite but has since moved to larger digs in the former USA Café section of the building near the corner of Hagadorn Road and Hannah Boulevard just east of Michigan State University’s campus.
The Jeon family, led by family patriarch and Rebecca’s father Bong Jeon, has owned eateries in Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and in Grand Rapids where Rebecca Jeon was raised. In fact, the family has operated over 18 different restaurants through the years. It was the early hands-on experience in the business that prepared Jeon for the rigors of a challenging industry.
“This is a very risky business to be in. We were all scared when we opened Sansu. Then we moved to a new location and the economy goes bad. You lose a lot of sleep as the owner. Both my mom and dad have, too.
“However, the mark of a good restaurant is its ability to satisfy clientele and then having them tell friends and family about it. We are very fortunate to have the kind of success we’ve had with Sansu,” Jeon says.
Nearly any weekday evening patrons fill the restaurant’s 6,000 square feet that features a traditional Japanese dining area complete with short tables and sitting area that includes dug out pits that let one’s legs dangle without leaving anyone stiff legged. The unique design also includes a sushi bar and bar seating.
“Even with our new location we still have hour-long waits on the weekends to find a table. We have gained so many loyal customers since we opened eight years ago. They come for birthdays, anniversaries and graduation. They are truly like family,” Jeon adds.
The MSU community, both students and professionals, comprise a large percentage of Sansu’s customer base, Jeon says, and has been incredibly supportive of the Japanese cuisine restaurant.
Sushi is historically considered to be raw fish served over sweet vinegar seasoned rice. However, Western influences have led to the popularity of many different types of sushi. Sansu serves over 75 varieties of the delicacy, including the traditional nigiri-zushi and sashimi, which is raw fish with no rice, Jeon explains.
“We serve sushi created with raw fish and cooked shrimp, beef and chicken rolled with rice on nori, which is dried seaweed, and then sliced into bite-size pieces. Sushi can be almost anything these days with rice and vegetables. One of our more successful creations is salmon with mozzarella cheese which is then breaded and deep fried. People love it.
“We try to develop several new combinations every several weeks that we will put on the menu for customers to try and give us feedback. A lot of people have never tried sushi, but we give them enough options to please about anyone,” Jeon adds.
Jeon, who is of Korean decent, worked her way through college at Western Michigan University where she majored in business. The mother of three is in the restaurant every day at lunch and dinner time to nearly close. Her father still helps keep the restaurant’s books, her mother helps in the kitchen and her brother, Michael, assists at the desk.
“It’s a family deal. I have a sister and brother-in-law operating a family-run European Asian style pastry shop next door to us, called Chapelure Fine Pastry and Espresso. Family here and overseas have supported me and the business and offered financial support when we expanded. Our whole staff is a part of the Sansu family. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Jeon lives with her husband, Jae Kim, and their three children in Okemos.
Sansu Sushi & Cocktails
Rebecca Jeon, Owner and General Manager
Hannah Plaza, 4750 S. Hagadorn Road