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Shuai Wang: Using Japanese Flavors and Charleston History to Drive Change

His "untraditional" food truck Short Grain calls on local and global inspiration

Last summer, in the months before Charleston temperatures rose to blistering hot, folks around town began to chatter about a new and interesting food truck on the scene. Early word was that a couple from New York was peddling rice bowls and okonomiyaki waffles, and the food was good — Instagram-worthy even.

Corrie and Shuai Wang moved to the Lowcountry with the promise of jobs from a friend opening a new restaurant. Both were industry vets. The couple met when he was chef de cuisine at the West Village izakaya Chez Sardine and she worked front of house.

When their friend's restaurant was delayed indefinitely and the opportunity fell through, they started looking for other employment. "I was at the point where I didn't really want to work for anyone else," recalls Shuai. "I work really hard. I give 110 percent, so I thought, why not work for myself?" That's when he and Corrie decided to open the Short Grain food truck. He worked the line and she took customers' orders.

Short Grain set up in different locations around Charleston each day to serve "untraditional Japanese cuisine." The F&B community was all aflutter over Shuai's food, Eater broke the story, and one of the city's toughest critics gave them a winning review, stating that "there are instances in which food served from a truck is so stupendous that it would be criminal to ignore it."

We had to find people to love us for who we are

The lack of an easy opportunity to work in someone else's restaurant ultimately defined Shuai's career path in the South. "I'm never one to worry about anything. Strangely, things just seem to work out," he states. "Our food was a little strange — there was nothing like it around here, but we just had to find our people to love us for who we are."

For the culinary-minded adventurers in Charleston, something was always missing; once it arrived in the form of Short Grain, Wang's "untraditional Japanese" menu filled a gap between old-school Charleston and what's to come. It took an outsider with a different point of view to realize a change could happen and that the Holy City could accept a chirashi bowl of local fish. No one's sure why it took so long for someone to realize that a city with a history of rice and seafood should be showcasing the two together in a beautiful manner, but the city is lucky this Chinese-born, Japanese izakaya chef from New York figured it out.

Beyond the amazing local produce, Shuai cites the sense of community among the restaurant workers in Charleston as a reason they stayed. The couple quickly made friends with some of the top chefs in towns, like Jason Stanhope (FIG) and Bob Cook (Artisan Meat Share), and promptly invited them to make ramen for a pop-up last winter. Every event Shuai cooks for becomes wildly popular — the Short Grain dumpling night on Spring Street brought in a full house. Charleston hungers for this type of food.

"It's fun to be in the middle of the change," says Shuai of the transition happening in the Lowcountry right now. While one foot may be firmly planted in the area's shrimp-and-grits past, the other dances toward a more global cuisine.

After conquering the food truck world, Shuai and Corrie want to settle into a permanent address. "We're constantly looking for a brick-and-mortar," he says. "That's our ultimate goal. It's been hard but we haven't given up." The couple wants to open a small, laid-back izakaya serving local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients with a few beers and some sake. Their dream location would be the Chinese takeout place Hot Mustard on Meeting Street: "Maybe they'll let us rent it out in the evenings, like Mission Chinese-style," Shuai says.

"At the end of the day," he says, "I just love to feed people. I love watching people eat our food and watching their reactions."

Find the full list of 2016 Young Guns here

Erin Perkins is Eater's Charleston editor.
Shuai Wang is the chef and owner of Short Grain food truck in Charleston. Images by Leslie Ryann McKellar.
Editors: Dana Hatic and Sonia Chopra
Copy editor: Dawn Mobley
See all Young Guns coverage here.

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