The Grand Opening celebration of ix tapa Cantina has finally arrrived! Owners Jack & Karen Huang will proudly open their third Old Town dining destination to family and friends tonight, along with several hundred party-goers that have won admission to the event throught the restaurants FaceBook & Twitter (@ixtapaPASADENA) and the Opening Blog (www.ixtapaPASADENA.blogspot.com). The Huangs are accomplished and active business professionals, with many years of service to the Old Town community and philanthropic organizations. As we celebrate the opening of ix tapa Cantina, we bring you the back story, courtesy of PASADENA MAGAZINE:
With three new restaurants, Jack Huang is transforming Colorado Boulevard
Story by Janeen Christoff
Photos by Orly Olivier
How is it that a Chinese aerospace engineer from Taiwan came to host Michael Jackson’s burial reception at his Italian villa-style restaurant? Simple: a passion for good food.
Jack Huang, entrepreneur and restaurateur, lives by a simple mantra: eat, drink, play, and have fun.
While he may have started a career in aerospace, restaurants are in his blood.
“I grew up working in restaurants,” says Huang, sitting in his trendy Italian restaurant, Villa SORRISO. “They are in my family.”
Villa SORRISO, Huang’s largest restaurant, is situated at the “entrance” to Old Town Pasadena, at the corner of Pasadena Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.
“Some people used to call this the end, but now everyone thinks of it as the beginning,” says Huang.
The Mediterranean-style villa offers Old World charm with its crackling fire pit, landscaped courtyard and airy dining rooms, the menu is filled with classic Italian favorites, as well as seafood, steaks, chops, and more. Guests can make a night of it, starting with cocktails in the martini bar and lounge and finishing the evening with live music, dancing, and DJs in the privacy of a patio cabana.
Before deciding to open his own restaurant, Huang honed his management skills with Panda Management Company, owners of Panda Inn and Panda Express, for two years, running its workers’ compensation program. Then he and his wife, Karen, had the idea for Wok ’n’ Roll Sushi, and, for nearly eleven years, it was a successful, fun-loving, fusion sushi restaurant where diners could pay homage to their favorite musicians by eating rolls named after music icons including Elvis Presley and Bob Marley. Eighties music blared from the speakers, and there was excitement in the air.
It’s this excitement that spurs Huang to create the next big thing and to tackle the next challenge.
“I am competitive, and I like to provide food in an innovative concept,” says Huang.
With Villa SORRISO, Huang offers a unique take on the supper club, combining a restaurant and bar with a clublike atmosphere. Areas of the restaurant, like the Zebra Lounge and the patio cabanas, offer dining opportunities unlike anywhere else in Pasadena.
“It’s unique,” says Huang. “Every room offers a different feel.”
However, he’s careful to note that, ultimately, it’s all about the food.
“We are a restaurant first,” says Huang. “People are going to love our food.”
This atmosphere carries through to the development of Bar Celona, Huang’s next venture after Villa SORRISO.
Bar Celona opened in SORRISO’s first space, at 46 East Colorado Boulevard. The restaurant is a stylized take on a Modern Spanish tapas bar. Diners can try tapas (small plates) and paella or sip sangria while enjoying flamenco music. The restaurant features patio dining, an exhibition kitchen, live music, and a late-night lounge.
This year Huang has faced a different challenge: the opening of his newest restaurant venture, ix-tapa Cantina, during an economic downturn.
“I am very fortunate,” says Huang. “Pasadena has been very good to me. We are about to own three of the largest restaurants on Colorado Boulevard. We are creating 250 jobs and are looking for opportunities to expand while other places are going out of business.”
With ix-tapa Cantina, as with everything he does, Huang has taken a hands-on approach, including choosing the name of the restaurant and hand picking lighting fixtures with architect and designer Sat Gard. The 7,500-square-foot location, at Arroyo Parkway and Colorado Boulevard, will combine a restaurant, sports bar, and club with Mexican cuisine. “I always want to have that fun factor, and this restaurant feels like a beach resort, which fits into the theme we wanted to carry out,” says Huang.
Now that ix-tapa Cantina is opening soon, Huang is close lipped about what he has in mind for his next venture. However, when you ask him, you can see the wheels churning as he gets a playful look in his eye. It’s sure to be somewhere where people can eat, drink, play, and have fun.
Villa SORRISO, 168 W Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 793-2233.
Bar Celona, 46 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 405-1000.
ix-tapa Cantina, 119 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, (626)304-1000.