Jay Ko and Michael Ng are an unlikely pair, according to Ng. Ko, owner of JKogi Seoul Street Eats on Second Street, next door to Ng’s Thai Corner, is young, ambitious and brash. When he came to Ng with big ideas about opening a restaurant, Ng wasn’t ready to go that far. He wanted to be a landlord and Ko needed to get his feet wet as a first-time restaurant owner. The two decided Ko would take over the former Andale space, do takeout and delivery, and Ng would see how it went.
It was an overwhelming success. Ng was impressed with how Ko handled it — there were none of the stutters and rocky moments that can trip up a fledging business. “The sales have been ridiculous for just takeout and delivery,” says Ng.
Ko never stopped trying to persuade Ng to join him at JKogi. And finally, after a lot of negotiation about how a partnership would work between the two, last week Ng agreed. It was time for JKogi to expand. It had to expand.
Thai Corner is now closed and after renovations that will include taking over the space next door to make a bigger kitchen, it will reopen as under the JKogi name for sit-down dinner service in about six or seven weeks. Takeout and delivery will continue, but lunch is something that the two will reconsider in the future. The three Thai Cabin carts are currently getting a paint job and will hit the streets in a week rebranded and serving bulgogi instead of pad thai.
Ng and Ko have big plans for JKogi. The spot on Second and East Marshall Streets will serve as a prototype for others in northern Virginia and North Carolina. The two aren’t looking to franchise the restaurant, however. “We want to keep it local. The quality of the food is the most important thing to us,” Ng says.
For Ng, the opportunity will bring more of something he wants in his life — family-time: “Jay said to me, ‘No more physical work, I want 100 percent of your brain.” That means he'll be out of the kitchen and into the office, managing the business and keeping the kind of hours that will allow for vacations and time with his children. It’s a big shift in perspective for him, but he says, it’s time.
“I’m jumping for joy right now,” he says with a smile. “You just can’t tell.”