THE FIRST TIME someone robbed Ryan Zheng's South Philly sushi restaurant, he wasn't there.

When the robber returned just two weeks later, Zheng panicked, telling his staff to run into the basement.

But the third time, Zheng acted. He says the decision was made for him.

"My family was in danger," Zheng, 34, said yesterday in Terryin Sushi Bar on Snyder Avenue near 4th Street. "My mind just went blank; all I thought was, 'I gotta protect them.' "

Zheng said he was in the restaurant's bathroom Thursday when Tishon Jones, 19, walked in and pointed a gun at his wife. It was the third time Jones, who was charged yesterday with robbery and related offenses in the stickup, targeted the business, police said.

Zheng discovered the scene moments later, watching in horror as his wife stood next to their 5-year-old son, facing down the gunman.

"I recognized [the robber] right away, and I knew what he wanted," Zheng said. "I didn't think of myself at all. I just ran."

Zheng said he tackled Jones, wrestling him to the ground as two of his employees joined the brawl. One, a sushi chef, grabbed a 10-inch, razor-sharp filet knife and stabbed Jones twice in the back.

"I don't think what I did was special," Zheng said. "Anyone would do the same if their kid was in danger."

When the dust settled and police arrived, Zheng recognized the serial robber as Jones, whose mother is a friend of his.

"I told her I was sorry, that I didn't know it was him at the time," Zheng said.

Despite the robberies, Zheng said he forgives Jones.

"The kid is 19. He still has the chance to learn from this, to learn how to be better," he said.

Zheng says he's learned something. He's asked his employees to be more wary, and will lock his doors a little earlier at night to make the business less vulnerable.

The latest robbery attempt, however, happened in the afternoon. More changes to deter theft will be made in the coming months, including a new register that operates in Chinese, rather than English.

Jones, after being charged, remained in stable condition at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital under police guard yesterday, Capt. Laurence Nodiff of South Detectives said.

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Blog: PhillyConfidential.com