COVINGTON, Ky. -- RC Newton first discovered the joy of farm-to-table chicken in his own backyard.
"Growing up outside Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, my family kept a huge vegetable garden, a few rabbits, bees and chickens. Taking a chicken from the back yard, having it plucked and on the plate by dinner wasn't special -- it was just how I grew up," Newton said.
His love of fresh farm-to-table chicken is why Newton plans to open Yakitori Haus, a Yakitori and ramen restaurant, at 405 Scott St. in Covington in May.
Yakitori literally translates to "grilled bird." It is the Japanese style of grilling skewered chicken over a trench grill, a small grill that uses binchotan charcoal, a traditional Japanese charcoal that holds heat well.
Prior to cooking, each skewer is dipped in tare, a sauce mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sake with a chef's own seasoning. Chefs then place each chicken skewer on the grill and cook it to smoky perfection.
"A Yakitori restaurant felt right to me," Newton said. "In Japan, many restaurants focus on local ingredients and same-day farm-to-plate animal butchery, which I appreciated, given my background."
The "haus" in Yakitori Haus is a nod to the German heritage of Covington and Cincinnati. Covington felt like a good fit for this type of restaurant, Newton said.
"Yakitori is street food; it's social and easy. Covington has an energy about it -- a street food restaurant just felt right here," he said.
A change in careers
Newton's parents divorced when he was a young teen. Newton said that when he and his father would spend time together, they would watch Food Network and then cook together.
"We loved the original 'Japanese Iron Chef,' which started my interest in Asian cuisine," he said.
However, after his father died while Newton was in high school, Newton said he stopped cooking: "I focused on an IT career, and cooking got pushed aside."
About five years ago, frustrated with his career in information technology, Newton returned to his love of cooking. After graduating from Sullivan University with a degree in culinary arts, Newton landed a job at Front Street Cafe, a bistro in New Richmond.
Front Street Cafe owners Bob Lees and his wife, Yuko, were huge influences on Newton, he said.
"Bob had lived overseas in Asia for years and spoke fluent Japanese. He and Yuko (who is Japanese) shared their love of Asian cuisine with me, and it rekindled my interest in Japanese cooking and opening a Japanese-style restaurant," Newton said.
By 2015, the chef's life had taken its toll on Newton, who had married his wife, Lucy, and settled in Deer Park. Newton sought a more flexible situation and found it working with Just Q'in BBQ, first as pitmaster and later general manager.
The idea for Yakitori Haus was never far from his mind, though, and in December 2016, he signed a lease for the Scott Street space.
Yakitori Haus will feature all types of chicken Yakitori, both white and dark meat. His tare is house-made, and Newton said his time at Just Q'in definitely has given it a barbecue flair. He will offer house-made sausage and also possibly fish or shrimp if he can source a local and sustainable option.
In addition to the Yakitori, Newton said he'll create a ramen dish for the menu featuring house-made noodles in his signature chicken broth. He will serve the ramen traditionally, with a soft-boiled egg, and with house-made pickles made from local and seasonal vegetables. Newton, who is still experimenting with the menu, said other Japanese-style items might appear, such as Japanese egg rice or crispy fried chicken skin.
Yakitori Haus is expected to have a beer and wine license and will feature Asian brews, sakes and plum wines, along with local brewery favorites.
The restaurant will be set up for dining-in on one side with long communal tables meant for talking and sharing while eating. The other side will be set up food-stall style, with counter ordering and a view of the kitchen action.
"The style of Yakitori dining is to grab a few skewers, get a few beers, talk, drink, then eat a few more skewers," Newton said.
405 Scott St., Covington
Projected opening: May
Expected hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday
Price: All items expected to be under $10; average Yakitori skewer should be $2