Hanover Yama closes, ownership swaps

by Marina Shkuratov | 5/19/14 6:40pm

After five years in Hanover, Yama Restaurant II will gain a new owner, a new name and perhaps a new Japanese-Korean menu by June, manager Yong Jeon said. Yama will continue to operate at its West Lebanon location, Jeon said, but will close its doors in Hanover this Friday because the responsibilities of running two restaurants proved overwhelming for the restaurant’s owner, Pissung Hwang Kim.

Much of Yama’s current staff will continue to work at the Hanover location after the new owner comes to Hanover from Boston, Jeon said.

Acquiring a food license and restaurant inspection could take one or two weeks after Friday’s closing, Jeon said, but he expects a new Japanese-Korean restaurant to occupy the location shortly.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said Yama’s owner transferred the restaurant’s liquor license approximately a month ago. Neither Jeon nor Griffin knew the name of the property’s new owner.

Griffin said that though she does not know the details of Yama’s closing, she suspects the restaurant was “a victim of their own success,” experiencing too much demand across its two locations.

Hanover’s high rental rates usually motivate restaurant owners’ and retailers’ choice to leave, Griffin said, particularly following the 2008 recession. Dartmouth’s schedule, which significantly reduces business between Thanksgiving and the beginning of December, also causes difficulty for local owners, she said.

These cost-related issues, however, may not have affected Yama, as the restaurant always seemed to be busy and filled with customers, Griffin said. There is no “classic pattern” to business turnover in the town, she said, and no single factor that determines how long businesses last.

Nigel Leeming, owner of Murphy’s on the Green and 3 Guys Basement Barbecue, said that it may have been hard for Yama’s Hanover restaurant to stay “fresh and alive” when its owner also operated a similar restaurant in West Lebanon. Though Leeming also owns two restaurants, he said his eateries are based on very different concepts and therefore do not overlap as much as the two Yama restaurants.

Maintaining a restaurant in Hanover also requires an exceptionally high level of quality, Leeming said, due to both competition from area restaurants and the town’s “discerning audience.”

Griffin said that Yama’s food was highly popular in Hanover, and that she hopes the restaurant’s new owner will serve a similar style of cuisine. Because Yama’s West Lebanon location is smaller than the one in Hanover, Griffin said she predicts people will line up at the West Lebanon location to get their “Yama fix.”

Taha Adib ’14 and his friends have eaten at Yama almost every Tuesday for the past two terms. Adib said he was disappointed to hear that Yama was closing — the restaurant, he said, holds nostalgic value for him.

“It’s been kind of a significant part of the Dartmouth experience for me and my friends,” Adib said.

Adib wrote a paper about Yama and Korean entrepreneurship for a geography course and said he had heard various explanations of what would happen to the restaurant after it closed. Some people told him the restaurant was closing for good, he said, while others said it would reopen after a week.

Adib said he hopes the new Japanese-Korean restaurant will continue Yama’s tradition of providing affordable and friendly service to customers, adding that he looks forward to the “new twist” that a change in ownership could bring to the restaurant and the Korean options on its menu.

Lauren Salgueiro ’15, who has celebrated two birthdays at Yama’s Hanover restaurant, said its relaxed atmosphere makes it feel as though the owners are not prioritizing profit over their customers’ experiences.

“I think it has a very different vibe than a lot of the other restaurants in town,” she said. “It’s a lot more calm, it seems a lot less like they’re trying to get you in and out.”

Yama is popular among students for its food, which students can’t get elsewhere off campus, Maria Sperduto ’14 said.

Sperduto said that people may miss Yama after it closes even if the new restaurant is successful, but that the new option has potential to be even better while providing a similar style of Japanese-Korean food.

“I think people will probably be glorifying Yama after it leaves,” she said.

This article was originally published in print under the headline "LocalYama closes, ownership swaps."