*Originally published Aug 8th, 2018.
John Wong traveled the world, learning how to cook from locals in southern Europe, East Asia and Oceania. Now he’s bringing his adventure home as proprietor and head chef of Bloom, a sleek new restaurant and sushi bar in downtown Globe.
“The community has been supportive,” John says in regards to the popular response.
Bloom, at 365 N Broad Street, opened in May to five-star reviews on Facebook, and a lot of excitement amongst the locals. On Friday afternoons, it’s packed with the business lunch crowd; on Saturday nights, a younger set. Weekday evenings, locals and travelers enjoy a late meal.
Open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 am – 10 pm, Bloom offers a big taste of six Asian cuisines, a full menu of appetizers, entrees, sake (rice wine), and sushi.
Some folks wonder about sushi in Globe.
“You can’t catch a fish off the ocean and serve it as sashimi,” John says, referring to a Japanese dish of thinly sliced raw fish.
“It has to go through a private purveyor; there’s only a handful in the U.S.,” he adds. “They control and grade the fish.”
He gets most of his fish from Japan and Los Angeles, the salmon from Scotland.
“We carry the highest grade. We get the same grade, the same fish, that they serve in New York,” he explains. “We bring it in twice a week. And by law, it has to be frozen at least once. That’s the sushi grade fish.”
There was a time when John Wong didn’t want anything to do with the restaurant business. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, John grew up digging potatoes on the family farm. His parents owned a country-style restaurant. When they were ready to retire, they asked John if he wanted to be in that business.
His response, “No. Never. Ever.”
So his parents sent him to college and John earned a math degree. John claims he was an average student.
“While I was doing math, I was also doing fine arts. That was my passion, and I did math for my parents.”
He also did math for corporate America as a risk analyst for General Electric.
“It was a really good company,” John says. “It allowed me to travel to Singapore, India, London, various places. Doing mathematics… risk analysis and forecasting. They paid for my masters, and my green card as well.”
On one of his last assignments to India and Australia, John was inspired by the food. Perhaps he yearned for the restaurant business after all.
After 10 years, John took some time off. With 18 months and a backpack, he traveled to Spain, France, Germany, through much of East Asia, and down to New Zealand and Australia. In each place, he’d ask local bar and shop owners to teach him something, and a lot of them did.
“I would sweep their floor or do their prep and they would teach a little bit here and there,” he explains, describing how he learned the foundation and fundamentals of cooking.
“I really got influenced by Spanish food,” he says of his time in Barcelona. “And Asian food was awesome. It just came really natural.”
John opened his first restaurant, with a partner, in Melbourne, Australia. It was called Simply Noodles.
In 2001, he returned to the United States, and opened Asia, a new restaurant in Mesa, with the same menu, same concept. It was a popular dining spot in Mesa for 15 years, winning 95 percent of the chef-off contests that he put on with fellow restaurateurs.
In 2009, John married Globe local Deborah Yerkovich. They had two sons, and by 2016, the commute was taking a toll on family life. John decided to close his restaurant in Mesa.
“It was hard,” he admits. “But worth it.”
John “sat around for a while” in Globe and considered his options. He went to look at an old building downtown for sale by Dr. Wilt.
“I didn’t give it much thought,” he recalls. “I came and looked at this building. It was very small. The roof was caving in.”
He went home and drew up plans for a new restaurant.
“Hey, maybe I can do it,” he soon thought and put in an offer on the building. Three to four months later, he became Dr. Wilt’s first buyer.
“He was very happy that I was going to make it into something,” John notes.
The restaurant John made exudes an urban charm, distinguished by its red awning and discrete signage. The interior sports clean modern lines with an Asian flair.
“During my time off, I put a package of 40 pages together of every detail of this whole entire restaurant,” John says, describing how he came up with the design. “Down to every piece of equipment I’m going to carry by model number. Every inch, from that wall to this beam, was in this document, in this business plan that I proposed to the city.”
It took a lot of work. The structure was stripped down to the wood, and extended out the back to make space for a prep station and a new restroom in the back. It took over 18 months, and John had his hand in every detail and did much of the physical work. He got help from licensed contractors for electricity and plumbing, and of course, family pitched in, including his brother-in-law Darrel Yerkovich who brought John’s vision for his outdoor sign to life and custom-built the lights that shine on the sushi plates.
“It’s fabulous!” says Tracy Quick of Bloom. (Tracy owns the bar across the street.) “It’s been so much fun just watching it come to life from the windows of the Huddle.”
John is quick to acknowledge help from many corners:
“I’m very thankful for my family, their longs hours of patience, hard work, and belief. Thankful for the Cormacks and the Yerkovich family. Thankful for Darrel Yerkovich for pulling me out of my jams. Fletchers for their beautiful bar top and blinds, and Western Repro, Tanner for being so pretty. And the city for their support.”
To test the appeal of a wok-sushi restaurant in Globe, John held a private tasting at the Train Depot last summer. He handed out pamphlets to “nearly every business in town,” inviting folks to try the food. He served three wok entries, four sushi rolls and three wines.
“It was packed!” John exclaims.
Expecting 150, the event drew 230 patrons at $40 per ticket, and affirmed John’s belief in the potential of his venture.
“The root foundation is good people and service,” John says. “And to get just a handful of people believing in my vision, the ripple across the pond begins.”
It took six months longer than planned to open, due mostly to process and construction delays. John is happy with the outcome, which is exactly as he envisioned it.
The business runs with a staff of 14 and growing, John says. It’s a bigger crew than he had before, and essential to the success of the venture.
“I want them to come in and feel like they own this place,” John says of his employees. “I want them to take care of this place.”
John recruited servers and sushi chefs from his old team and is investing in local talent. Servers train for a month, wok cooks for three, and sushi chefs, up to a year.
“I have to be there,” John says, “to lead, to inspire, to show my way.”
What is it like to work at Bloom?
“I love it!” exclaims Kristin Battista, a server at Bloom, who commutes from Mesa for the opportunity to work for John again.
“John is different,” she explains. “He doesn’t just care about the restaurant. He cares about you as a person.”
The restaurant has been open for almost two months, and already it’s had an impact.
“It’s brought a bit of life to the downtown area,” Tracy says. “And they’re great neighbors.”
It probably will never be ‘business as usual’ for John, who is already working on special events for Bloom and taking notes on his next culinary adventure.
John Wong seems undaunted by the high-risk nature of the restaurant business.
“Whenever you go after something you’re passionate about, it works out… in some way,” he says.