No Wok in the Park: YC’s defies challenges to open new store

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

The pandemic was tough for restaurants, and Geoff Stanisic can attest to that.

The owner of build-your-own stir-fry concept YC’s Mongolian Grill says he is grateful that the industry has returned to some semblance of normalcy.

“We’re just very grateful,” Stanisic says.

“A lot of establishments didn’t make it out of COVID. We had some minor setbacks, but we circled the wagons and we’re growing again.”

His “minor setback” was the bankruptcy of the Scottsdale Pavilions location near Salt River Fields. His other restaurants survived Gov. Doug Ducey’s pandemic-dictated closure of restaurants and buffet restaurants.

In October, he brought his flavorful bowls back to Scottsdale when he opened a new store at 14850 N. 87th Street, near Raintree Drive and Loop 101.

“People’s dining habits changed,” he says. “In Tempe, there were no students. In Chandler, there were no movie theater patrons. Scottsdale was all entertainment driven. We didn’t know what was going to happen with COVID. Nobody did. We had to shutter those. Now, when we reopened, we’re less reliant on any one type of demographic.

“We have to be able to draw in businesspeople and residential guests. This location is the perfect fit for all of them. In the last week, I’ve met so many people at the Scottsdale store who said they had driven from Scottsdale all the way to (Gilbert/Mesa) for our food. I had no idea. I was awestruck by the amount of people who made the trek.”

YC’s Mongolian Grill Scottsdale features the restaurant’s signature small, large and unlimited bowls with flavorful, world-inspired sauces including Calcutta curry, spicy Thai, curry-yaki and spicy black pepper. Guests are encouraged to pack their bowls full of fresh veggies, rice, noodles and sauces to customize their bowl experience. Each bowl is then stir-fried by a YC’s chef on the restaurant’s signature flat-top grill.

“What separates us are our noodles,” Stanisic says.

“You don’t know why you like our lo mein noodles, but we hand-steam them. Most places, whether it’s Mongolian barbecue or others, will boil noodles. We steam. It’s much more time consuming and labor intensive.”

The noodles absorb the flavor from the sauce and the grill, while with boiled noodles it just runs off.

“Our lo mein noodles don’t have the glisten of moisture, but that’s because they’re absorbing all the sauce,” he says. “They’re in that absorbent stage.”

YC’s Mongolian Grill has been a locally owned and operated Valley staple for more than 30 years, opening its first location in Tempe in 1991. He has already purchased space for his next location: Downtown Phoenix behind The Vig on Fifth Avenue.

“It’s a 1913 home that we’re going to keep historic in the front and we’ll put the kitchen in the back,” he says.

“It’s a new feel for us. It’s more of a neighborhood place. Folks near there, they don’t drive. They walk their dogs, ride their bikes. Kids take their scooters.”

A graduate of Catalina High School in Tucson and the NAU, Stanisic would love to expand throughout the state, but he has bigger priorities.

“I’m still a dad,” he says. “My kids are 14 and 15. My kids need a dad at home, more than they need a restaurant. Plus, opening this restaurant was not easy, especially during this supply-chain era.”

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