If you were near the Marcy J back in 2015, or more recently at music venue Baby’s All Right, you might have eaten food made by the folks at Kichin. You could have taken a rice ball or Korean fried chicken to go, or snacked on homemade curry at a party thrown by the musician Yaeji. Kichin has served at many places, but now they have a storefront of their own again on Myrtle Avenue, steps from the Central M.
Kichin was started by Bryan Moon and Hoon Smith, alongside Moon’s brother Michael and their friend Kyuma. They met while attending college in New Paltz, NY, and working in a noodle restaurant. Upon graduating, the Moon siblings got jobs in design and audio production, but began craving change.
“We were both kind of bored. I was kind of missing quick, fast-paced restaurant work,” Bryan says. “He had some savings, and he was just like, interested in starting a new venture.” They floated the idea of a tea house, but settled on a fast-casual East Asian food shop, bringing Moon’s college friends to run the show alongside them.
That was 2015, and they spent almost two years peddling Korean fried chicken and Japanese rice balls (including a riff on a bacon, egg, and cheese featuring a soft-boiled quail egg) at a storefront on Broadway in Williamsburg, which netted them a positive feature in The New York Times.
They eventually departed that space due to an assortment of landlord-related issues. “It was a huge bummer,” says Smith. “We had just hit our stride—we had a really solid, regular customer base, and we never got all those people back.”
“We lost all the traction that we had,” adds Moon. “Everyone was just kind of confused.”
Shortly after, they got an invitation to cook at Kinfolk, the multifaceted Wythe Avenue space known for savvy design and parties. Their first night was a collaboration with electronic musician Yaeji—a friend of theirs—called Curry In No Hurry, a continuation of an event Yaeji had been throwing in her home with food and DJ sets. At Kinfolk, the Kichin team served curry to hundreds of attendees, and the party raged for twelve straight hours.
While cooking at Kinfolk, they continued doing pop-ups, predominantly in nightlife spaces and in partnership with groups and spaces like MoMA PS1, queer Asian collective Bubble_T, and streaming electronic music series Boiler Room, as well as some more corporate events, like a time they describe serving fried chicken from the break room of a Gap store for a clothing launch party filled with PR folks and journalists.
Not all of these pop-ups were smashing successes—sometimes they were put in spaces not conducive to cooking hot food, and sometimes partiers just weren’t interested in eating (or paying for) a meal.
“A lot of the smaller ones, it’s really awkward, you just feel really out of place,” says Hoon. But these pop-ups also allowed them to meet new people (including some they went on to hire) and create a portfolio to show to investors. They’re still doing pop-ups from time to time—last week they did a Bubble_T party at Elsewhere—but are “a little more selective” now.
After ceasing operations at Kinfolk (frying chicken in their kitchen was logistically questionable, and steamed fare like noodles didn’t sell as well), they found their way to the venue Baby’s All Right in August 2017. Smith and Moon speak favorably of their time there, but don’t deny it was difficult in some of the same ways Kinfolk and their pop-ups could be.
“We tried to do our own thing there, and tried to build a regular customer base,” says Hoon. “But it was just really hard, because we weren’t on the floor, we were in the kitchen. So no one saw us. Most people were there to see the show. So if the show was empty, or if it was full of college kids that were broke, we didn’t make any money.”
They’re now leaving Baby’s to focus on their new Bushwick storefront, which opened officially at the start of June. Moon has decided to step away from kitchen duty to focus more on the business side of things, and Kyuma and Michael are no longer involved, but they’ve brought on two new team members: chef Patty Lee, and beverage director Jason White, who comes from the fine dining world and has designed a drinks menu that includes a small-batch keg from Hudson Valley Brewery.
Instead of their previous fast-casual endeavors, Kichin’s current space is more of a sit-down restaurant, with a cafe-style space near the bar (open during the day, with WiFi), and two levels of seating in the back.
Food-wise, they’re no longer focusing on fried chicken (though don’t worry, you can still get it), and have left the rice balls behind in order to focus on more elaborate and creative dishes. Currently, they’re serving options like mussels with kimchi and anchovy butter, chrysanthemum salad, and Korean rice cakes with halloumi and mozzarella, as well as modernized takes on more traditional fare like kimchi fried rice and noodle dishes japchae and jjajangmyeon.
“We have a whole staff around, which is infrastructure we didn’t really have at these pop-ups. It lets us do more ambitious dishes, like a whole fish,” says Hoon. “[At Baby’s All Right], you can’t bring a whole fish out, it’s going to spill. We get to do really fun things like that here. Like a 24-hour cooked pork belly, things that require a little bit more finesse to prepare, and I just have the security of knowing that it will sell to somebody, that it will be very good.”
“It’s just way better to not be in someone else’s space,” adds Bryan.
Kichin is located at 1264 Myrtle Avenue in Bushwick.