A young man working in his uncle’s pan-Asian restaurant around the turn of the millenium, Mike Mercatoris was prepping to-go orders and listening to his headphones when the kitchen’s head chef nabbed his attention.
Mercatoris pulled back his headphones, and in broken English, the chef said, “You, me, we’re going to start our own restaurant.”
“I was just like, ‘OK, man,’” Mercatoris recalled, explaining he blew it off as kitchen staff banter.
But, true to his word, Chef Ming “Henry” Zheng opened the first Zheng Asian Bistro with Mercatoris in a little El Jebel strip mall nearly a decade later.
“We had no idea if it was going to work,” Mercatoris said. “But I saw strip mall restaurants work in Florida, so I believed we had a chance.”
The strip mall wasn’t their first choice. Initially, the pair looked at a riverside location. Their real estate agent said he could…