Jin Tang Shen, 56, of Philadelphia, the cheery, energetic owner of the Yakitori Boy lounge in Chinatown, died Sunday, Aug. 9. He suffered a sudden cardiac episode, said daughter Joanna.
She remembered her father, known as “Jimmy,” as a risk-taker and entrepreneur who would never give up. “Whenever he got knocked down, he would continuously get back up with a smile,” she said. “He was never too busy to stop and share some wisdom and inspiration.”
In 2007, Chinatown was a more homogeneous place than it is now: blocks of restaurants, groceries, and bakeries operated by people from all over China, with a smattering of Vietnamese restaurants, a Malaysian place, and a Burmese restaurant.
But Mr. Shen, who bused tables after he first immigrated to the United States from Guangzhou, had a different idea for a former supermarket on 11th Street between Race and Vine Streets. During a trip to New York City, Mr. Shen and his partners ate yakitori at one place and sushi at another, and sang karaoke at a third.
They decided that Yakitori Boy would offer skewers, sushi, and what his partners called japas — Japanese tapas, small dishes such as bacon-wrapped quail eggs. Karaoke at the time was relegated to corner bars. Yakitori Boy has a collection of private rooms off the second-floor bar to allow groups of friends to sing their hearts out in private.
Business initially was slow, Mr. Shen said in 2017. “Asian customers from different countries started coming here at first,” he said. “Especially after the first couple of years, we have many more American customers. Now, 70% are American, and I think 80% of them are locals — the rest are tourists.”
Mr. Shen, a gregarious host, could even be persuaded to grab a karaoke mic when the mood struck. His favorite song was John Legend’s “All of Me.”
Mr. Shen also owned Terakawa Ramen in Chinatown, Teriyaki Boy in Princeton, and Ramen Kumamoto in Newark, Del.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Shen is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and a son, Edward.