Joon Park used to cringe when he would get takeout orders for his family’s Korean barbecue restaurant in Annandale. “A lot of very traditional Korean dishes don’t travel well,” he says. “We couldn’t figure it out how to deliver it to them. You get very soggy food in some styrofoam container.”
That’s not the case at the Park family’s new venture, Bangbop in Brookland. Orders like rainbow bibimbap bowls from the delivery and pickup-only shop at Tastemakers incubator/food hall are specifically designed to still taste good 30 minutes after traveling to diners in an eco-friendly container. The lengthy menu includes six different bibimbap bowls, along with spicy pork tacos, bulgogi bao, salads, Korean-inspired bahn mi, oven-fried organic Korean chicken wings, salads, build-your-own options, and more dishes.
The ghost kitchen concept, which opened Monday, November 2, has been in the works even before the pandemic.
“We’ve actually been planning or thinking about a delivery kitchen for a few years as our second act. We’ve done the traditional sit-down dining, traditional Korean restaurant thing,” Park explains (the family opened its Annandale restaurant in 1998 and sold it over a decade ago).
“We wanted to do something that’s different and challenging — and something that actually kind of marries our family’s tradition and expertise handed down from generations of Korean recipes, authentic flavors, and modernizing it with sort of a new business model,” he says.
Park’s sister Ji is Bangbop’s executive chef and manages the restaurant, while Joon is a self-professed technology geek who's into analyzing data and solving logistics problems. “I really think of ghost or dark kitchens as almost an e-commerce technology business as much as it is a restaurant,” he says.
Besides a slick website, Bangbop incorporates technology that automates dispatches of drivers, using three different outside companies to make sure the restaurant can handle peak times. The restaurant offers deliveries within three miles of its site in Brookland (other food delivery platforms will take deliveries further out, up to five or six miles or so).
Besides focusing on takeout, the Parks wanted to put a healthful, sustainably-sourced spin on Korean barbecue — one that appeals to people with dietary restrictions.
“With every menu item, we thought about how to make it healthier, without compromising taste,” Park says. “Our customers really love the fact that we offer vegan and non-meat options like tofu.” There’s also “Impossible Bulgogi,” made with Impossible Foods vegan protein.
So far, Bangbop’s most popular dish is the traditional bulgogi bibimbap, which Park says tastes as “if you had a Korean grandmother who cooked really well and she made a bowl of bibimbap for you the best way she knows how.”
Park says that customers in Brookland have embraced the restaurant so far, and he hopes to pay it forward by hiring employees from the local community as the restaurant grows. A Popville post led to even more orders than the family expected in its first few weeks of business.
“Since late last week, we’ve really been working really, really hard to make sure we are delivering great food and we’re running out of ingredients. For a restaurant that opened in a once-in-a-century pandemic, as problems go, this is a pretty high-class problem,” he says.