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Japanese

Gary Shek is the manager of Wasabi Steakhouse in Miller Place. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Smile.

That’s what Gary Shek tells his employees at Wasabi Steakhouse in Miller Place. As the manager of the hibachi restaurant, Shek’s main concern is providing good service by tending to the customers and ensuring high-quality food — two reasons that encourage new and repeat customers to return to the restaurant.

The four-star establishment opened March 23, 2014. Since then, Shek is usually the main employee greeting guests when they arrive, and sends them off when they leave. While it may take him a couple tries, it doesn’t take long before Shek remembers the names and faces of his customers, which adds to the guest’s experience.

“Let’s say I see your face [one time], a year later, I will still say hi,” Shek said. “You make [the customer] feel like [they are really important]. Of course, business is very important, but the customer, you have to make them feel like family.”

According to Shek, some hibachi restaurants focus on having a classy or elegant style, while he wanted his restaurant to be more family oriented, since many of the residents he serves are families who may remain in the area until their kids graduate high school.

Gary smiles for the camera with Wasabi Steakhouse owner Kenny Ching. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Gary smiles for the camera with Wasabi Steakhouse owner Kenny Ching. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Kenny Ching, one of the owners of the restaurant, has known and worked with Shek since the mid-1990s. They met while working at the Secret Garden Tea Room in Port Jefferson. Ching said working with Shek is easy.

“I don’t have any pressure,” Ching said. “He can handle [work] pretty much himself. I don’t have to follow him. Training managers isn’t always easy.”

Shek credits his management skills to working in the hotel business in Hong Kong before he moved to Long Island in 1990. It was at the hotel where Shek tried to remember the names of hotel guests. It wasn’t until he transitioned to the restaurant business that Shek saw the difference between the hotel and restaurant business.

“From the hotels I [saw] the international [people from] different countries,” Shek said. “But here, [there are] local residents so I have to keep smiling every day [even if] I have a bad day.”

From 1995 to 1998 Shek also managed a Chinese restaurant for one of the individuals who owns Wasabi Steakhouse alongside Ching. Although Shek and Ching have to remember more types of dishes now than they did working at Chinese restaurants, they do their best to serve their customers and answer questions about the menu.

The service, as well as the food, is what keeps customers like Diana McGeoch and her family and friends coming back to Wasabi Steakhouse.

“We come here all the time,” McGeoch said. “Too many [times] to count. Fifteen plus maybe.”

“And he remembers us every time,” Brain Murray, a friend, said after McGeoch. “[The atmosphere is] very warm and welcoming. [Shek remembering our names] makes you feel special when you come here.”

Jean Casola of Rocky Point is another customer who dines at the restaurant for its service and high-quality food. Casola discovered the restaurant last year when she was celebrating her wedding anniversary.

“First of all, the service is amazing and polite beyond belief. Then the food comes out just the way you want it,” Casola said as she ate her dinner.

Shek said the restaurant goes out and picks up fresh cuts of fish and meats nearly twice a week, but also has fresh food delivered nearly five times a week. Leftover food is discarded after a day or more passes. According to Shek, some restaurants turn this food into an all-you-can-eat buffet.

While Shek acknowledges that people come back for the food and for hibachi, he doesn’t believe people come back to the restaurant because of him.

“I just want to be a successful manager,” Shek said.

But customers like Casola think differently.

Recently, Casola helped her daughter Faith pack for Pfeiffer University in North Carolina. She said her daughter misses eating at the restaurant, and in 30 days, so will Casola. She and her husband are moving to North Carolina to be closer to their daughter, but packing up means leaving Shek’s service and food at Wasabi Steakhouse.

“I don’t think they’re going to have anything like this there,” Casola said. “And they’re just not going to have another Gary, that’s for sure.”

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Students from Harbor Ballet Theatre perform a dragon dance at last year’s festival. Photo from PJCC

Dragons will roar as the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce will once again host the Port Jefferson Dragon Boat Festival on Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Mayor Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park, 101 E. Broadway, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“This year’s ‘Dragons’ is bigger and better than last year! With the expansion of teams, entertainment and food, this festival has something for everyone,”  said Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce.

“One goal this year was to create a more interactive program for the day for not just the teams but for spectators as well, including bringing in the racing course closer to land for better viewing. Collaborating with more community partners makes this event inclusive to our residents and visitors,” she added. Ransome came up with the idea of creating this festival after attending a similar event in Cape May, N.J., a few years ago.

An opening ceremony will include an Asian color guard along with the blessing of the fleet by Buddhist Monk Bhante Nanda of the Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center, incorporating the traditional eye dotting ceremony to kick off the races.

Twenty-four teams will compete in a 250-meter course in  four dragon boats provided by the High Five Dragon Boat Company and will include representatives from local hospitals, civic groups, businesses and cultural organizations. Each team will be made up of 20 “paddlers,” one steersman and one drummer. Heats will run all day with a culmination  of an awards ceremony at the end of the day.

In addition to the races, there will be a day-long festival featuring numerous performances, including a lion dance, Taiko and Korean drum performances and Asian singing and instrumentals along with educational and cultural displays and vendors. Various Asian delicacies, including pot stickers, lo mein, bánh mì Vietnamese pork sandwiches, sushi, stir-fried noodles, bubble tea and spring rolls, will be available.

Along with traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, there will be dragon sculptures, an opportunity to paint “dragon” eggs and children’s crafts. New this year is a Fortune Cookie raffle sponsored by the Fortunato Breast Health Center, Asian souvenirs, a photo booth, photo opportunities with a friendly dragon and team contests for the best team T-shirt and best costumed drummer.

Sponsors include Confucius Institute of Stony Brook, LONGISLAND.com, New York Community Bank-Roslyn Savings Division, Fortunato Breast Health Center, SCNB Bank, Tritec, News 12, Times Beacon Record Newspapers and Unity SEO Solutions.

The event will be held rain or shine and admission is free. Bring a blanket or lawn chair and come enjoy the festivities. For more information, call 631-473-1414 or visit www.portjeffdragonracefest.com.

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The suggestive advertisement offers cash-only massages in Smithtown. Screenshot from Backpage.com

An office building on West Jericho Turnpike in Smithtown was allegedly used as a front to house an illegal massage parlor, Smithtown officials said in a statement Wednesday.

Smithtown Public Safety fire marshals busted the parlor on July 19 around 2 p.m. operating out of 811 West Jericho Tpke. to find what Department Director Chief John Valentine described as an elaborate hidden facility with multiple bedrooms, each holding three to four young Asian women. Officials cited suggestive advertisements for the space on Backpage.com, promising patrons body rubs from Korean and Japanese girls for $60 to $70.

Smithtown fire marshals allege the office building at 811 West Jericho Tpke. housed an illegal massage parlor. Photo from Google Maps
Smithtown fire marshals allege the office building at 811 West Jericho Tpke. housed an illegal massage parlor. Photo from Google Maps

Valentine said the fire marshals acted in response to a request for assistance from the Smithtown Fire Department to find the parlor, filled with young Asian women in “various stages of undress.” Upon their entry, Valentine said a roughly 35-year-old Asian woman confronted the fire marshals and tried to block their entrance into the location.

“The unidentified females and several apparent patrons fled the location upon entry,” Valentine said. “Suffolk County Police 4th Precinct officers were contacted and responded to the location.”

Inside, officials found what Valentine described as suggestive advertising and photographs promoting the services. Subsequent online searches posted that same day on Backpage.com advertised a grand opening for cash-only massage services with several provocative photos of young Asian women. The posting was listed under a “Long Island body rubs” thread.

An ongoing investigation was put into motion through the Smithtown Public Safety Department and fire marshals have uncovered multiple violations of the fire and property maintenance codes as well as town code violations, including interfering with emergency personnel, Valentine said.

It was not clear whether criminal charges would be filed.