Owner Jerry Yang announced that he will be closing Pocket 8’s Sushi & Grill restaurant later this month.
Yang, who is a former World Series of Poker Main Event champion, says he wants to stay closer to his home in Fresno and focus on his new restaurant Shobu Japanese Cuisine, which is scheduled to open in Fresno in October.
Pocket 8’s last day of business will be on Sept. 28.
“I’ve been coming to Merced the last 10 years, I just can’t do it anymore,” Yang said. “It’s getting to be too much. I started this when I was maybe 40. Now I’m 50. After a while, I need something closer to home. The new place is going to be seven minutes from my house.”
Yang says he’s still putting in 15 and 16-hour workdays, seven days per week. He says there have been incidents where he’s fallen asleep at the wheel commuting back to Fresno late at night. He has a wife and six children.
“There’s been a couple scary times like that,” Yang said. “It’s not just a safety concern for me, but other people on the road too.”
Yang named his restaurant after his winning hand in the 2007 World Series of Poker Main Event. Yang held pocket eights on the final hand and made a nine-high straight to win $8.25 million.
He opened Pocket 8’s Sushi & Grill in September of 2009. It’s at the corner of G Street and Alexander Avenue.
“I have no regrets whatsoever,” Yang said. “I sincerely appreciate all the support we’ve received in Merced the last 10 years. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today. I love Merced. Everyone has been like family. I’ve become close with a lot of our regular customers.”
Yang said most of the people who have heard of the restaurant closing have expressed sadness.
He said one of the toughest parts was letting his 15 employees know the restaurant would be closing.
“It’s tough,” Yang said. “I’ve got a few single mothers working here. It’s very heart-breaking. I’ve even offered if they can come down to Fresno they have a job. A few of the chefs will be coming with me. Everybody has been pretty understanding.”