Janny Kim and Huy Huynh had very specific requirements for the milk bread they use to make Japanese sandwiches at their new D.C. pop-up, Hello Sando. Each slice from local Korean bakery O Bread is cut thicker than a hunk of Texas toast. Organic flour makes the bread so soft, airy, and cloud-like, it will almost show your fingerprint when you pick up a sandwich.
Those fluffy pieces of milk bread symbolize what Kim and Huynh, who worked together at Himitsu with chef Kevin Tien, are trying to do with the new pickup-only sandwich shop that operates out of Tiger Fork in Blagden Alley. The pandemic inspired their business, which they hope can bring a little affordable slice of joy to D.C. diners while helping out their friends in the food industry at the same time.
“We just basically wanted to create an environment where we can offer jobs to our unemployed former coworkers,” Kim says. “We just wanted to cook again. We just needed to be around food in a professional atmosphere, and we just really miss working with the crew.”
Orders open up every Sunday at 5 p.m., and customers can pick up their food Thursdays through Saturdays at Tiger Fork. Including the upcoming weekend, Hello Sando has sold out quickly in its first two weeks.
Both Kim and Huynh have backgrounds in sushi and Japanese cuisine, but they decided to go a more casual route with Hello Sando.
“At the end of the day, sandwiches are very comforting, very homey, kind of childish and very fun,” Kim says. Huynh even researched Japanese sandwich culture on a trip to Japan, trying a sando from 7-Eleven and Lawson convenience store. “Something so simple and humble was one of the best sandwiches I ever ate,” says Huynh.
Instead of attempting an authentic Japanese sandwich, Hello Sando’s founders try to put their own spins on the convenient staple using all the techniques they’ve learned in restaurants. There’s an egg salad version crowned with a soft-boiled egg, and a chicken salad sandwich that gets heat from jalapenos and nuttiness with smoked almonds. Strawberry and cream sandwiches are popular in Japan, but Hello Sando uses seasonal fruit instead, starting with a sando full of local peaches and ricotta.
Sides are picnic-inspired: there’s a macaroni salad with togarashi; a Korean-style potato salad with Kewpie mayo, English peas, and strips of nori; and a lightly pickled salad of cucumber and squash topped with toasted perilla seeds. Iced yuzu matcha tea rounds out the menu, and a katsu sandwich is in the works too.
Hoagie and sandwich pop-ups have proven super popular during the pandemic, from Your Only Friend’s subs at Columbia Room to Last Call’s grab-and-go deli. D.C.’s seen a few Japanese sandos on menus, including Erik Bruner-Yang’s egg salad version at the Line hotel’s Cafe Spoken.
The Hello Sando team decided to make their sandwich operation pick-up only to minimize contact during the pandemic, linking up with friends at Tiger Fork to operate a ghost kitchen and pickup site there.
Kim and Huynh, who’ve leaned on friends and colleagues to help with the photography and the very cute graphics on Hello Sando’s social media and website, say they’d love to have a permanent location at some point but they’re taking it one day at a time. So far, they’ve hired three employees to work alongside them — and their old boss Tien is a mentor and sounding board.
“We’re so grateful to have his opinion,” Kim says.