What We've Been Up To

Restaurateur Birdie Yang set to open Yama as part of $14M push into lower South End

By Jennifer Thomas  |  Senior Staff Writer   Charlotte Business Journal

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Restaurateur Birdie Yang continues to reinvent the Yama brand. The latest iteration of that Asian fusion restaurant will open in mid-February in lower South End.

Yang has taken a 4,100-square-foot space at 3535 Dewitt Lane and invested roughly $2 million to transform it into a chic, modern area. Expect it to feel familiar, yet also mark the next chapter for the brand.

“We try to improve and give something unique every time we build one,” Yang says. “We’re trying to do it better than the last one.”

The restaurants have evolved over the years, growing from more traditional looking to chic and modern. D3 Studio was the architect on the design. Cox Schepp was the general contractor.

The space melds warm walnut woods and light, maple-colored tables with shimmering-gold light fixtures. The sushi and cocktail bars offset each other, both in design and placement. One boasts black leathered marble and white Japanese textured slate, while the other features white polished marble with dark tile. There’s booth seating in a tufted triangle design. A sueded ivory wall treatment doubles as a design element and a noise suppressant. Yang opted for bigger tables because he expects groups. Lighting will be dimmed at night — but will also be perfect for pictures and selfies.

“We care about the smallest details,” Yang says. “We’re building the place as if we’re the clients. If we’re the customer, what would you like.”

Hiring is ongoing, with kitchen training underway. The focus is on ambiance, service and food. Having all three sets the stage for success, Yang says.

“If you can execute all the dishes well, I think that’s the signature of the restaurant,” he says.

Yama is known for its sushi, but the menu has something for everyone, Yang says. There are dishes for vegetarians, those with food allergies and even those who want to splurge.

Small hot dishes include edamame, Kalbi — a grilled marinated Korean style short rib — and crispy calamari. There’s also cold dishes such as the sushi or sashimi appetizer or the Hamachi Jalapeno, thinly sliced yellowtail with serrano pepper and yuzu ponzu sauce.

Specialty rolls include more than 20 options such as the Crunchy, tempura shrimp with a layer of crab and spicy aioli, or the Pink Lady, with lobster salad, mango cucumber and avocado wrapped in soy paper with a honey yuzu sauce. Hand and Maki rolls can be purchased by the piece.

The hibachi element brings together a variety of proteins such as steak and scallops or shrimp with sauteed vegetables and fried rice. There’s also sushi and sashimi entrees and specialty dishes such as the teriyaki salmon, grilled duck or Katsu Chicken, where chicken strips are lightly fried and served with spicy aioli and white rice.

Yang grew up in the restaurant industry. Opening his own venture was always the goal.

“I always wanted to get out; get away,” he says.

He did so by launching Yama in SouthPark in 2007. He’s since added a location at the Waverly mixed-use development in south Charlotte. Yama closed its Plaza Midwood location in 2020 to make way for development. Yang says he’s considering options in that market but has yet to find the right fit.

He’s also behind Baku in SouthPark.

Yama is part of a bigger project by Yang. In May 2021, his NC LoSo LLC purchased three Dewitt Lane properties in LoSo Village for $6 million from Beacon Partners.

His goal was to create a hub for restaurants and entertainment in lower South End. In total, he’s invested $14 million to transform that 1.25-acre parcel.

"Everything is driven by food here," he says.

The development is also home to Phat Burrito, which made a triumphant return last year to Charlotte six years after closing in South End. SupperClub SouthEnd opened there in October, bringing a social house experience with a 15,000-square-foot, indoor-outdoor entertainment complex. Bodyrok Pilates has also taken space there.

LoSo Village is just one block from The Station at LoSo, a master-planned, 12-acre mixed-use development by Beacon Partners..

That project totals 190,000 square feet with two boutique office buildings with ground-floor retail. MAA LoSo has a 350-unit apartment complex at the site.

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