Utah Food

King of “Fast Casual Dining”: Eddee Johansen of Yoshi’s Japanese Grill

Yoshi’s of Murray offers fast casual service and a small menu that keeps prices affordable.

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Eddee Johansen, owner of Yoshi’s Japanese Grill in Murray, holds “Liz’s Chicken,” char-grilled chicken breast, steamed veggies, chili paste, lime juice, and avocado over brown rice, and “Godzilla” sushi roll with tempura shrimp, cream cheese, and avocado. Photo by Tyson Rollins

Between fast food and the casual dining you’ll find at Applebee’s or the Macaroni Grill, there’s “fast casual,” Eddee Johansen, Utah owner of Yoshi’s Japanese Grill in Murray, said.

Catalyst for Creative Food

Before TRAX came to Salt Lake City, Eddee was a general manager at a downtown Salt Lake restaurant that earned millions in annual revenue.

Corporate America came in and asked Eddee to let go of a Down syndrome employee who they thought had no place in their organization. “It wasn’t about my employees or our customers, it was about increasing sales and optimizing profits,” Eddee said. “Lack of freedom pushed me over the edge and got me out of that culture.”

Yoshi’s walls hang with beautiful paintings curated locally from Eddee’s high-school painting instructor, Bill Larsen. Eddee’s a “super Zion fanatic” who’d be heartbroken if he couldn’t boulder (a form of rock climbing) with friends in Joe’s Valley or hike the Narrows in Zion National Park every year. That love translates into a mindset for creative food. “Being here sixteen years means a lot to me,” Eddee said. “I grew up here, and I’m not leaving.”

Mindset Taste

Yoshi’s came to life looking for more than burgers, Eddee explained. “Let’s put something different on the market. Not a sushi bar, but something with rice,” he said. “A rice-bowl concept, that’s how it came about.”

An original menu featuring teriyaki chicken and egg rolls now offers a twist on hot and sour Miso that is “so good.” “There’s the Bonsai soup people wait for all year,” a seasonal, Italian-inspired creamy butternut squash soup. “This is where some of the weirdness comes in, the inspiration,” Eddee said. “I just made it for my employees one day and we decided to put it on the menu.”

As a kid, the Aerosmith concert t-shirts everyone else lived in made Eddee yearn for something new. “My favorite bands are the newest bands,” he said. “By that, I mean I’m constantly looking and paying attention. Something in a magazine touches on a taste bud, some mindset taste thing. It doesn’t have to be about food.”

Outlining ingredients to Yoshi’s sixteen-year success. “I demand our food look as good as the photos on the wall. Fast casual service and a small menu keep prices affordable. Sushi was an evolution that made sense. Believing in the importance of buying local,” Eddie said, “If I could buy everything local, I would.”

Enso Difference

Every Monday Eddee opens Yoshi’s and cooks every grain of rice himself, to observe the Buddhist spiritual practice of Enso, which means, “when the mind is free, the body can create.” This allows him to be involved “on a whole different level. The circular Enso symbol features prominently in the calligraphic logo Eddee designed. “What we do ‘on rice’ is different than you’d expect to find in Japanese fare.”

“I tell people this: if you want a hamburger or a burrito you’ve got a lot of options,” Eddee said, “but if you want Yakiniku Beef, Latin-heavy cilantro-lime chicken, or Raspberry chicken, you have to come to Yoshi’s.”

To see more photos from Tyson Rollins visit his website.

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