David Chang is back in the D.C. area — or at least one of the culinary corporations built on the chef/podcaster/Netflix star’s name is. Fuku, the fried chicken sandwich brand that intends to compete with the likes of Chick-Fil-A and Popeyes, opened up delivery-only ordering in Northwest D.C. and Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday, October 8. Uber Eats is offering free deliveries during October.
The Fuku sandwich — revamped with a 6-ounce chicken breast cutlet instead of chicken thighs — includes poultry brined in habanero chile puree with pickles and a spicy Fuku mayo on a Martin’s potato roll. There are also versions with shredded cabbage and a “knockout” sauce, bacon and buttermilk ranch, or a sweet and spicy glaze. Tenders and waffle fries are on the menu, too.
Over the past couple years, Fuku was available in D.C. as a concessions item at Capital One Arena (NBA, NHL) and Audi Field (MLS). Neither facilities have hosted fans during the novel coronavirus pandemic. While Chang permanently closed his D.C. outpost of Momofuku before D.C. even ordered a temporary dine-in ban, Fuku’s return is built for these bleak times with a novel expansion plan.
The sandwiches are prepared in an Arlington “ghost kitchen” — built to service delivery apps without the burden of on-site customers — operated by Reef Technology, a tech brand with a $1 billion valuation that parks its cooking trailers in parking lots all over the country. The partnership has undergone test runs in Portland, Oregon, and Miami that Fuku launched without major announcements.
Fuku’s Oregon pilot did not go well. Chefs and restaurant advocates in the city, which has its own culture of food carts, complained that the brand was moving into town at a time when COVID-19 had devastated the competition. The company “paused” its quiet launch after three days.
In advance of its D.C. area rollout, the company prepared press materials that included the lure of a reconfigured sandwich. Fuku executive chef Stephanie Abrams, billed as a DMV native, reportedly spent a year on the new recipe, resulting in a “bigger, crispier, spicier, and saucier sandwich.”
The company delivered Eater a test sandwich, and it maintained its integrity upon arrival with a crunchy outer layer, tender meat, and a persistent heat buzzing in the background. In essence, it seemed like exactly what Fuku is trying to make: a product that’s reminiscent of Chick-Fil-A or Wendy’s, but with signifiers like non-GMO and no-antibiotics, and an accompanying Chang seal of approval.
In fried chicken news closer to home, D.C. favorite Roaming Rooster has a new takeout operation on U Street NW.
Disclosure: David Chang is producing shows for Hulu in partnership with Vox Media Studios, part of Eater’s parent company, Vox Media. No Eater staff member is involved in the production of those shows, and this does not impact coverage on Eater.