Tony Ly was just 23 years old when he opened Basil Asian Bistro in downtown Canton in May 2013.
“I had a lot of management experience for my age, but not enough. I was still growing up,” Ly said. With an easy chuckle, he added, “I’m still growing up.” Six years later, Basil is a popular and thriving downtown cornerstone.
Ly was born and raised in the restaurant world. His uncle, Ricky Ly, was owner and namesake of the popular Asian restaurant in Jackson Township. Tony’s father worked there “in the background, in the kitchen.” And Tony worked there, too, starting when he was 14 until Ricky Ly’s closed in 2011. Tony also worked at his mother’s Chinese carryout in Hartville, China Wok. “After school, I’d go there and help her out.”
After a brief and unhappy stint in college, Ly returned to Canton.
“I wanted to do the thing I knew, which was to stay active in restaurants,” he said. He had business cards printed with his name, contact information and the words Restaurant Consultant. He would drive around looking for empty restaurants for lease, then visit them with real estate agents.
Ly had just turned 22 when “I got that fateful call from Steve Coon.” The downtown developer had a property opposite the Palace Theatre that had most recently housed The Brownstone, a steakhouse.
After seeing the space, Ly decided to take the plunge and open Basil there. “We had a lot of hurdles. I didn’t have any capital. I maxed out every credit card I had,” Ly said. “When you’re young, you call up all your friends that need jobs, which is a curse and a blessing. We didn’t have any money budgeted for marketing. Every day I felt like I was sitting on pins and needles. I literally had bad (restaurant) dreams every night.”
Before long, after positive word of mouth and “great press from The Repository,” Basil was on its way to success, Ly said. “I remember my dad looked at me and said, ‘I think we’re going to make it.’ ”
Young and ambitious, Ly opened a second Basil restaurant in Green, and an ambitious venture, Tapas 218, on Court Avenue in downtown Canton, which closed after 16 months. “I still have people tell me at least once a month that they miss that place,” he said about Tapas 218. “I’m glad we tried it.”
Next, in 2016, Ly opened a sleek third Basil in downtown Wooster. “We had quite a few people who would drive from Wooster to see us in downtown Canton. We were approached by members of the chamber in Wooster about opening there. I went with the flow on that one,” he said. “Wooster is doing very well.”
In 2017, Ly opened an intimate, 30-seat sushi restaurant, Sushi Katsu, in Akron’s Merriman Valley, where a popular sushi place had existed for almost 30 years. Serendipitously, Ly then took over the bar right next door and converted it to an arcade bar called Quarter Up, with more than 60 arcade games and two dozen pinball machines.
Most recently, Ly converted the Basil in Green to Ramen Katsu, a ramen noodle restaurant, in November 2018. “I felt the (Basil in Green) was always in the shadow of the one in downtown Canton,” he said. “Plus, I’ve always wanted to do ramen noodles. Who doesn’t love noodles?”
Asked if he’d consider opening a Ramen Katsu in Canton, Ly said, “I guess never say never. If the stars align, I’d love to.” He’s still trying to decide what to do with the building he bought on Cherry Avenue NE downtown that housed Pete’s Grill & Pizza.