D.C. gets its first Korean barbecue restaurant equipped with tabletop grills today with the opening of Gogi Yogi, the latest project from Duke’s Grocery co-founder Daniel Kramer.
The Shaw restaurant is inside the Shay apartment building (1924 Eighth Street NW), sliding into a former triangular-shaped retail store that only left behind two massive concrete columns and a slick concrete floor.
Chef Patrice Cunningham, a D.C. native who grew up learning recipes from her Korean mother, prepares lots of grilled meats and seafood, as well as banchan, or assorted Korean appetizers served alongside the meal.
Kramer has a sentimental connection to the food, too. He grew up five minutes from the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, where tabletop grilling spots are on every corner. He says he was one of the few non-Koreans in his elementary school.
“I’d be at the lunch table being asked if I could trade my PB&J. I was just eating Korean food and thought it was normal,” he says. He was 12 when the L.A. riots ravaged small businesses in the neighborhood in 1992.
”I remember my mom had us get brooms and shovels to clean up certain parts,” he says.
He hopes Gogi Yogi fills the void of area KBBQ options, which are already aplenty in city centers like NYC, San Francisco, and LA.
“Washingtonians should not have to drive 45 minutes out to Virginia to get it,” he said upon announcing the project last year.
The dining room at Gogi Yogi boasts 75 seats, and the biggest table fits up to 10 people. Most require reservations, but there’s room for walk-ins.
Funky details are aplenty at every table. Low aluminum stools with wood tops pop off so patrons can house their jackets and purse inside while eating. And the hot pink-edged scissors — used to cut the array of ribeye, pork belly, bulgogi and other meats that patrons throw on their tabletop grills — have a convenient bottle opener built into the shears.
“I literally just cut your pork and now I’m going to open your beer at the same time,” Kramer says.
Kramer says it wasn’t easy to convert that blank canvas into a full-blown restaurant, complete with a new kitchen, tabletop grills, tube-shaped neon lights, and a bar stocked with Asian beers and spirits. Local architect Studio 3877, the firm behind Penn Quarter restaurants The Smith, Boqueria, and Succotash, lent a hand.
“Every restaurant project is hard but this was an especially massive project. It involved all sorts of engineers, technicians — you name it,” he says.
To bring a taste of Korean culture to Shaw, Kramer hired graffiti artist Keyhan to line the 20-foot walls with murals of dragons, cartoon drawings, and Korean phrases.
The mother-of-pearl tile-lined bar intersperses its lineup of South Korean-made Tok Tok spritzer cans and glass bottled soju offerings with traditional Korean wood masks and figurines and anime stuffed toys he brought back from LA.
While the buildout was a huge challenge, so was landing on the name. Kramer enlisted the help of the Petworth’s female-led creative workshop, the Lemon Collective, to brainstorm name ideas. The winner, Gogi Yogi, playfully translates to “meat” “here”.
Kramer’s had a super 2019, having opened a new Duke’s Grocery this spring in Foggy Bottom. Duke’s Grocery in Dupont Circle opened in 2013, and Duke’s Counter in Woodley Park followed in 2016.
A spacious outdoor patio, lining both Florida Avenue NW and Eighth Street, will open at Gogi Yogi in the coming months.
There won’t be grill tops out there, however — just appetizers (fried dumplings, a spicy bowl of beef “hangover” soup, Korean BBQ wings), and cocktails. One early hit during mock service is the Hongdae Hustler — described as a Korean spin on an Old Fashioned served with a flavorful spoon of imported Jujube Marmalade.
The restaurant will open daily from 11 a.m. to last call, with identical menus at lunch and dinner.