Quick " but not fast " food
Vail, CO, Colorado
Sitting her kids down with McDonald’s Happy Meals at an outdoor table at the West Vail Mall, Betty Ann Woodland did a little something for herself ” she walked into Gohan-Ya.
“I can’t stand the taste of fast food,” she said, studying the menu mounted on the wall of the quick-order Japanese restaurant. “And I love Asian food, so this makes sense.
“I live downvalley, so I don’t get to come as much as I would like to,” the Edwards resident said. “I like supporting the local economy, and there’s a great energy here.”
Gohan-Ya manager Shin Yamamoto appeared behind the counter to help Woodward narrow her culinary options. As the only noodle-house/rice-bowl joint in the Vail Valley, Yamamoto is used to explaining the menu.
“How long have you been here now?” Woodland asked Yamamoto.
“Two years,” he said.
“Congratulations,” she said, followed by, “Wow.”
“Yeah,” Yamamoto agreed. “Especially in this town, two years is tough.”
Gohan-Ya celebrated its second anniversary just a few days ago, but the restaurant’s team didn’t bother with a lot of fanfare, opting for business as usual.
Refocusing on the menu, Woodward finally decided on the yakiniku, choosing tofu instead of meat, combined with fresh vegetables and a spicy ginger soy sauce over rice.
Woodward joined her children outside. When the miso soup arrived at her table, Woodland’s glance wandered from the soup to her children and their McDonald’s and back to the wholesome broth.
“Why can’t they eat stuff like this?” she said.
Unlike Woodward, Clint Copsey needed no help choosing his Gohan-Ya dinner. He’s been visiting Gohan-Ya at least once a week since it opened two years ago.
“I’ve always loved Japanese food,” he said. “It’s a healthy alternative to Taco Bell or McDonald’s. It’s something different, and the prices are reasonable ” equal to fast food.”
Some of Copsey’s Gohan-Ya staples are also a couple of the eatery’s most popular dishes. The ton-katsu consists of a tender, deep-fried pork cutlet with steamed vegetables topped with a slightly sweet ton-katsu sauce served over rice. Another crowd pleaser is the yaki-udon, thick udon noodles with meat or tofu and veggies tossed in a spicy ginger soy sauce.
The Gohan-Ya menu has endured a lot of tweaking over the past two years as owners Kazue and Takeshi Osaki and Yamamoto sought to strike a balance between traditional Japanese cuisine and food Americans enjoy.
“Japanese dishes are usually a bit dryer, but everyone kept on asking for more sauce,” Yamamoto said. “So we started cooking with more sauce. Every day I learn something from the customers.”
Finding the right level of spiciness to please the masses also has been a challenge.
Gohan-Ya team has relied on foresight, insight and just plain trial and error to stay successful in Vail.
A dinner menu the owners introduced wasn’t as popular as they had hoped. Sandwiched between a Subway and Taco Bell, Yamamoto figured people wanted more affordable options, so they returned to offering the lunch menu all day. An extensive, made-to-order sushi bar was also a misstep, and they opted to return to a limited selection of premade rolls.
“It’s tough to survive in this town,” Yamamoto said. “Hopefully, we’ll make it through the first three years. Then, we’ll be good.”