A new Kennewick restaurant combines the savory flavors of Korean cuisine and the allure of grilling.
Min Won, who also owns and operates Sushi Ya Japanese Restaurant, opened Gangnam Style BBQ in July in a 3,000-square-foot former Korean restaurant near Ranch & Home and Texas Roadhouse.
Gangnam’s new home came equipped for a restaurant, but fell well short of Won’s dream of bringing authentic Korean cuisine, including table-top grilling, to the Tri-Cities.
The space had to be dramatically remodeled to accommodate tables with grills and overhead hoods to vent smoke through the roof, a costly investment.
Won, a veteran entrepreneur, didn’t make the investment blindly.
He consulted with his uncle, a contractor, and the two concluded the space suited the vision. They also estimated it would take about three months to outfit the restaurant.
It took nine.
“Many things happened,” Won said with a shrug.
The first was what didn’t happen: an easy time finding contractors who understood what he wanted to do. Tabletop grilling also was unknown in the Tri-Cities, driving health and safety concerns.
For diners, there is a detailed safety sheet that includes food handling instructions, cooking times and an advisory against undercooking. Staff members monitor tables for safety and to provide assistance as requested.
Gangnam takes its name from a district in Seoul known for its culture and flavorful style of cooking. “Gangnam Style,” celebrated in the popular Psy song, is a cultural reference.
The venture made a soft debut in July and has been steadily building a clientele ever since. The 16-table restaurant has six with grills and 10 without.
The set up gives Won and his crew of 12 flexibility to seat customers where they’re most comfortable.
Won said first time visitors often shy away from the grill-tops and order off the traditional menu. But for the adventurous and those comfortable grilling, the six tables offer a unique chance to prepare their own meal.
Won said the most common question from newcomers is “Why should I cook?”
Freshness for one. Fun for another.
“We have to tell the customer they have to cook!” he said.
Gangnam’s wait staff bring out the dishes, including marinated meats and a dazzling array of side dishes that include fresh lettuce leaves that serve as wraps; kimchi; potatoes; cabbage; spinach; bean paste and dipping sauces flavored with garlic, sesame and smoke, to name a few.
Diners can do as much or as little actual cooking as they like. A button at the table summons aid.
Tabletop cooking isn’t a huge stretch for most, Won said.
“American people do barbecue all the time in their backyards,” he said.
Don’t be shy
Once diners get over their initial shyness, the grill-it-yourself approach is popular, and waiters seldom get called.
Won is a South Korea native who has lived in the U.S. for about 20 years. He cut his teeth in his family’s Portland-area restaurants, racking up successes and failures as he learned about business.
He moved to the Tri-Cities eight years ago when the opportunity arose to purchase a sushi restaurant. Won said he was happy to trade Portland’s rain and traffic for the Tri-City sun, rivers and schools for his young family.
As one of the region’s early sushi restaurants, Won learned early that he had to educate the community about the cuisine.
To start, Sushi Ya primarily offered cooked dishes while slowly introducing raw fish tucked into spicy sauces and other dishes.
With Gangnam BBQ, he turns teacher once again. The restaurant offers two menus, one for grilling and the other for traditional dining.
We have to tell the customer they have to cook!
Won said the strong reception in the first three months have left him optimistic that the Tri-City community is ready for Korean barbecue.
In time, he would like to add a second location, possibly in Richland.
Gangnam BBQ is at 7903 S. Grandridge Blvd., west of North Columbia Center Boulevard. It’s open for lunch and dinner every day. The lunch menu runs $10.95 per plate and the dinner menu runs $11.95 per plate. A basic combo grilling menu for two, featuring meats and all the sides, is $49.00.
Follow the restaurant on Facebook under Gangnam Style BBQ.
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