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The City Journals

Refugees make dream come true with their own sushi restaurant in Holladay

Apr 15, 2019 10:27AM ● By Lindsey Baxter

Sam Pheng and Christina Len, store owners of SM Sushirrito. (Lindsey Baxter/City Journals)

By Lindsey Baxter | [email protected]

SM Sushirrito, located at 3949 South Highland Drive, was a dream come true for two refugees from the Chin State of Myanmar (Burma).

Sam Pheng, in Utah for 8 years, and Christina Len, in Utah nine years, did not know each other when they came here as refugees.

Len left her country in 2006 because it is military controlled and they have no rights. “Different religions, different languages, and we are really poor because we live in the mountains. I was thinking about, do we exist in Burma or not? Because they don’t even know if the government didn’t even realize they existed. Since 2012, they started to acknowledge the village and the capital city started knowing that there was a state there,” Len says.

In 2006, Len lived in a very small village with many siblings. She went to school in the city and had to work two days a week. The city was a two-day walk from her village and they had a place in the middle of the walk they would sleep at and then continue walking the next day. 

Len decided to leave to pursue a better life for herself in 2007. Len lived in Malaysia for three and half years and applied to the UN, and they approved her to come to the United States in 2010. She was able to bring one brother and one sister with her when they came.

Len and Pheng met in 2011 at church. After four years they got married, in 2015. Both are Christians and from the Chin State, and Utah has a church for Christians from the Chin area.

They decided to open a sushi restaurant. “We don’t have much money, but we try — we opened in 2017 and have been in this location for two years,” Len says.

“I left my country in 2004 and lived in Malaysia almost eight years and came to the United States in 2011. We are trying to live better. We have never lived anywhere else but Utah,” Pheng says. Pheng speaks four or five languages.

They want to hire an employee so they can have time for other things, like starting a family. They don’t make enough money to pay for an employee yet. “We try really hard and we know God is with us,” Len says.

 

Pheng and Len are appreciative of their regular customers and the people who try to help their business get better, and their landlord that is very helpful. Vaun Hall, a regular of SM Sushirrito, is the one who brought these two to the attention of the Journal. “They figured it out, in a different language and everything. They have figured the business out.”

“We had to figure everything out, what to order, what to buy, advertising, all of it. We don’t really know about social media. Uber Eats and Grub Hub do work with us and deliver sushi to customers,” Pheng says.

Len’s village now has internet and she is able to Skype her mother, whom she hadn’t seen in over a decade. Len says there is now a bus that can drive to the state and they don’t have to walk to the city, so she is excited for the growth her home state has had. However, she hasn’t been able to get back and see her daughter or parents in 14 years.

“We have sponsors CCS (Catholic Community Service) and IRC that help refugees get started in a new country. The sponsors sent them to Utah. We are so lucky and love it here and I love the mountains because it reminds me of my home state,” Len says.

“I have been coming a year and a half and we tell everybody we can — it’s just so good,” Hall says. “I just think they are lovely, hardworking people. They are so friendly and their sushi is really good,” Hall says.