With Wild Ginger Xpress, Owner Brings Quick-Service Taste of Japan to Smithtown

by Leanne Pastore

Alex Yeh is no stranger to the restaurant industry. In fact, he’s what some would consider a veteran.

Yeh established Wild Ginger, a popular multi-location Asian-fusion eatery, almost 30 years ago. But after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Yeh sold his shares in three of the restaurant’s locations in East Northport, Great Neck, and Rockville Centre when it became too demanding to manage the further away restaurants, leaving only its Smithtown location under joint ownership.

This choice was painful for Yeh, as the former Nobu chef had always dreamed of opening his own restaurant.

Four years later, Yeh is thrilled to take another dive into the culinary cosmos: his new restaurant, Wild Ginger Xpress, opened last month on January 20th.

The Chevy Advance parked day in and night out in the restaurant’s lot.

“I have the same clientele from there to here. Plus we have the reward points, so they use them back and forth,” said Yeh, a Smithtown resident who grew up in Valley Stream. “I just need more new faces.”

Despite the likeness of both names and being just a short, minute drive from one another, each offers a distinct dining experience. Wild Ginger boasts an expansive selection of seafood and sushi. Xpress, on the other hand, features a compact menu featuring well-liked Japanese delicacies like edamame, hibachi, rice bowls, and 21 different flavors of milk and fruit teas.

Yeh says it is difficult to determine what the restaurant’s best-seller is, because customers have been trying a bit of everything.

“It’s hard to say which one because it depends on everybody’s mood, and what you’re in the mood for today,” he said. “You might go for ramen. Tomorrow, you might want to go for hibachi. That’s why it’s hard to say. The menu is short, it’s easy. So everyone wants to try everything on it.”

Xpress’ concept draws inspiration from a take-out dining experience that Yeh, his wife, Cheryl, and his partners, Billy and Joe Depaolo- who are also Smithtown residents and owners of local business B&R Plumbing & Heating – crafted upon recognizing a lack of comparable options nearby. However, if they aren’t in a hurry, guests also have the option to enjoy their meal in one of the 16 seats in the dining room, which comes complete with a lunch counter and a life-sized statue of Naruto standing proudly in the corner.

The restaurant’s dining room decorated for Valentine’s Day.

The restaurant at 182 Terry Road in Smithtown is hard to miss, especially with a bright, fire-engine-red Chevy Advance parked a few feet from its doors that has now taken a permanent residence in the small lot it shares with Panico’s Community Market next door. Yeh shared that he opted for the unique decoration because he wanted Xpress to be reminiscent of a “ramen joint” in a Japanese village.

Yeh is enthusiastic about the future. Not only for Xpress but the possibility of opening new restaurants. He and his partners have been discussing the possibility of expanding the Japanese quick-bite concept to other towns on Long Island.

“There have been some new people that [have] come in, and they keep coming back,” said Yeh. “So that’s good.”

Now he wants to spread the news about Wild Ginger Xpress.

It’s just having the word of mouth get out there,” he said with a chuckle.

Leanne Pastore is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.

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