On the Line: Paul Zhu of the Balcony Grill & Bar, Part Two

On the Line: Paul Zhu of the Balcony Grill & Bar, Part Two
Photo by Johannes Dewald

By age 30, Paul Zhu wanted to be out of the corporate grind. With a background in management, finance, and operations, he set his sights on a spot with a lot of potential for growth. We grill him about Balcony's new menu and the future he has planned. (Ladies, he's ready to settle down and start a family!) His Asian persuasion began in part one, but there's still tomorrow's appetizer to look forward to.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
The restaurant business can be very cutthroat, with competition sprouting everywhere.

What would your last meal on Earth be?
Anything my mom cooks.


Who's your hero, culinary or otherwise?

My father had sacrificed so much by coming to the United States. He worked relentlessly to establish a successful career and to provide our family with a beautiful home and future.

Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
Not only was I an avid patron of dining out these past few decades, but I was also the general manager at the Balcony for a short while prior to purchasing it.

How long does it take for you to find parking at Diamond Jamboree?
I usually find parking within five minutes because not many people are aware of the four-story parking structure in the back of the plaza. [Editor's Note: I didn't believe him. But he was right about the five minutes!] It has a bridge that leads directly to the Balcony.

Last book read and/or movie watched.
I just watched War Horse at Edwards 21 at the Irvine Spectrum.

Where did you grow up?
I actually grew up in New Jersey. My family moved to Irvine in 1996 when my dad accepted a new job responsibility.

Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Such a hard question to answer because I love just about every food there is. It's all up to the cravings at the time, but lately I've been going to Gen Korean BBQ off Newport in Tustin.

Why use milk in your shaved snow?
It gives it a richer taste compared to standard shaved ice. By combining that with our other secret ingredients, we are able to create the perfect, fluffy, shaved-snow texture.

We hear there's a new menu in the works.
We'll be introducing a new lunch/late-night and dinner menu next month. It will be great for people looking for a quick meal during the day--and for those seeking a variety of tastes late in the evening.

What dish would you tell newcomers to the Balcony Grill & Bar to try first?
By far, our most popular item is the individually packaged shabu/hot pot set that allows customers to choose from a variety of soup flavors and meat selections.

What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I would still be a corporate number cruncher.

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
You must be 100 percent committed to the business and be willing to make sacrifices in both your social and family lives until the business stabilizes.

What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
Within the next five years, my biggest priority is to find a wife and have my own family. By the 10th year, I hope to have established my own franchise.

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