EDMOND — Fusion restaurants typically feature dishes born of ingredient mash-ups in an attempt to create new cuisine, but the city's newest fusion restaurant is about how cultures in harmonious coexistence can elevate each other, which happens to mirror the story of its owner's life.
When Patrick Mok opened Cafe Icon Sushi and Grill, 311 S Blackwelder Ave., earlier this year, his goal was to create a place that would leave a lasting impression.
Whether that goal comes true is in fate's hands, but what Mok's Cafe Icon is today is a mosaic for the olfactory senses that tells the story of a man born in Hong Kong and educated in northwest England on his way to becoming a successful Oklahoma restaurateur.
The compelling nature of Mok's story would fall flat, though, if the flavors at Cafe Icon didn't deliver on the promise of its sparkling atmosphere.
With its Las Vegas-cum-Hong Kong atmosphere, beautiful sushi bar, clever plays on lunch fare and sizzling hot lava stone selections to crank the wow factor to 11, the future for Cafe Icon is as bright as the colors that adorn it.
Path of learning
It's our good fortune that Hong Kong native Mok, 41, won a prestigious national scholarship at age 12 to attend the 129-year-old Ellesmere College in Shropshire, England, near the Welsh border.
“It looked like some kind of a castle,” Mok said. “Very old, very traditional and prestigious.”
Mok weathered the bullying he said was standard for new students plus an extra dose reserved for foreigners while working his way through school to have enough money to afford a social life.
“To this day, I don't eat potatoes,” Mok laughed. “I must've peeled 200 pounds a day.”
Mok explained that while his scholarship paid for his room, board and education, he had to work in the kitchen each morning and take out the trash each night to earn money to keep up with his well-heeled classmates.
As his secondary studies drew toward their end, Mok determined he'd like to continue his studies in atomic physics and chose to attend the University of Oklahoma. He arrived in Norman with a grasp of the English language difficult to understand if you couldn't cut through his Chinese-Welsh accent, wearing cowboy boots he bought as soon as he got off the plane.
Four years later, he'd earned that atomic physics degree and was set to join the staff at the Superconducting Super Collider that never came to fruition in 1993.
“When we lost funding, there was a professor I worked with who didn't even know how to fill out a job application,” Mok said. “I didn't want to end up like that.”
After returning to Oklahoma, Mok earned his MBA and developed marketing tools for grocery stores. This landed him a high-paying job in Nebraska by the age of 24.
“I had a great apartment in Omaha. My bedroom opened out directly to the swimming pool,” he said. “Six months later, I was fired. I was on my face.”
Looking for ‘wow'
Mok said it took him two years to recover from the affront to his ego and glean all that failure had to teach him. By the time he was ready to open his first restaurant 13 years ago, he not only had humility but was ready to raise a family.
His wife, Joanna, mother of two children, is an integral part of the business.
“She's the brains behind the operation,” Mok said. “She also picked most of the decorations for Cafe Icon.”
Mok owned and operated the neighborhood favorite Tropical Cafe for a dozen years on the western corridor of Edmond Road, where he learned the ins and outs of a business not included in his secondary and university education.