Tony He bought Teriyaki Bento (Bento to Go) in 2007. (KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox)

Of the Keizertimes

Teriyaki Bento

Location: 3720 Cherry Ave. NE, Keizer

Phone: (503) 463-9899

Hours: Monday though Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Closed Sunday

When Tony and Eva He emigrated to the United States from their native China, their experiences traveling the States dictated where they wanted to go.

Much like their home in the Guangdong province of China, big cities like New York City were too crowded and brusque, said Eva. They wanted somewhere smaller, with friendly people.

So they picked Salem-Keizer, and now own Teriyaki Bento, alternatively known as Bento to Go, on Cherry Avenue in Keizer. The restaurant has been open since the mid-1990s; they bought it in 2007.

Tony is the kitchen mastermind, said Eva. The tiny restaurant serves up Japanese, Chinese and Korean fare, and offers lunch teriyaki and yakisoba specials. Other specialties include the General Tso’s chicken and udon chicken.

Tony and Eva had no restaurant experience upon coming to the Salem area, and also spoke virtually no English. They had worked as driving instructors in China. Classes at Chemeketa Community College helped with the language barrier, but they found restaurants were one industry they could work in without needing to be proficient in English.

Tony honed his cooking skills at Lucky Fortune on Lancaster Drive, at Rocco’s Bar Grill and at Good Times.

And he discovered he loves it, said wife Eva.

There’s a small dining area, but most orders are to-go. They aren’t able to offer delivery due to the extremely small staff: Most days it’s Tony, son Jordan and his uncle. The He family keeps it that way by design, Eva said.

“When you hire people to do things you can’t do them special – you do it as the boss tells you,” Eva said. “But Tony owns his business, and he can do whatever he wants.”

Many of the sauces are made in-house, including the teriyaki. Meats are marinated shortly before grilling. And Eva said a key difference between their restaurant and others like it is that everything is made-to-order.

“If I go out to eat I don’t want that for myself,” Eva said. “Sometimes it takes longer because every dish we do is fresh.”

The menu has slowly expanded as customers request different items.

Food can be cooked mild or as spicy as you like it, but that’s where Eva draws another distinction: Spicy doesn’t mean just more chili paste and hot peppers – a dish designated “hot spicy” may have an ingredient or two that “medium spicy” doesn’t.