CINCINNATI -- After four years of “proving the concept,” Red Sesame food truck owner Byoung Joon “BJ” Kim is more convinced than ever that Cincinnatians love Korean barbecue wrapped up in a burrito.
Now the entrepreneur of street-style Korean and Mexican fusion cuisine is ready to take the Red Sesame enterprise to the next level. Kim is opening a 1,200-square-foot eatery at Jungle Jim’s International Market in Eastgate. If all goes as scheduled, Red Sesame the restaurant will open to the public on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
“We’ve been asked about a fixed location since the first year,” said Kim, who plans to continue operating the food truck as he expands into the restaurant space.
Kim said he started seriously looking for a brick-and-mortar location two years ago, and even though he had early talks with Jungle Jim’s, he wasn’t looking at the Eastgate area for his first restaurant. A New York transplant originally from Seoul, Korea, Kim got some pointers from his customers on viable business locations.
“My customers said, 'You want to be Downtown, Over-the-Rhine or in the Hyde Park area,'” he said.
However, last year, when Kim participated in Jungle Jim’s food truck rally in Eastgate to celebrate the market’s 40th anniversary, he was surprised by the healthy turnout.
“At that point, I called them back and said, ‘You know what? We want to do this,’” he said. Kim said he thinks the location will be convenient for his customers in Loveland, Milford and Mariemont.
In addition to the food truck staples of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and kimchi hot dogs, Kim will add kimchi tater tots to the lineup – a mix of tater tots, a hot dog, rice, kimchi, cheese and house sauce. He’s also reaching into Cincinnati’s “porkopolis” roots and putting pork on the menu, rounding out the other protein choices of chicken, steak and tofu.
“They will love the spicy pork,” he said.
The restaurant will seat roughly 30 and be configured for a “fast-casual” format: Customers will go through a line to customize and pay for orders and then seat themselves. The eatery initially will serve only soft drinks, but Kim is working on getting a license to serve beer.
He also has deliberately carved out a generous kitchen space to better support the catering arm of the business. (“We get a lot of inquiries about catering,” he said. “This will be a great opportunity for catering (more) events.”)
The learning curve to expand from food truck to restaurant has been steep.
“It’s been very educational,” Kim said, adding that he has quickly learned to watch construction costs. “It costs a lot of money – more than I thought.”
Kim plans to open other eateries once the Eastgate location is up and running. “I would like to have a small place Downtown or in the Oakley area,” he said.
Kim, whose first career was in engineering, said he sometimes finds Red Sesame’s traction and success hard to believe.
“I’ve been so lucky … so lucky,” he said. “This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”
Red Sesame Restaurant
Where: 4450 Eastgate South Drive, inside Jungle Jim's International Market Eastgate. Projected to open on Dec. 21.
Hours: Monday-Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. until further notice.
Information: 513-356-0880; redsesamebbq.com
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.