Michael Ng was at a crossroads last year. He’d spent time, money and effort trying to stabilize Andale Taco Chop Shop, a small takeout and delivery spot next door to his other restaurant, Thai Corner. Should he continue to spend 18 hours a day trying to make the concept work or move on?
Ultimately, he didn’t have to make that decision — well, not entirely. Ng was approached three months ago by Jay Ko, a 32-year-old veteran of the restaurant industry in Washington. Ko looked at locations around Virginia and North Carolina before settling on Richmond to start a restaurant — specifically, one of Ng’s properties on Second Street between East Broad and East Marshall streets.
Along with his girlfriend, Sara Chang, Ko planned to create a Korean restaurant, JKogi Seoul Street Eats, with a menu based on family recipes.
He was impressed with the block’s foot traffic — which also includes Big Herm’s Kitchen and Bodillaz Famous Quesadillas — plus the proximity of thousands of Virginia Commonwealth University students. Chang had attended the university a few years ago.
Ng wasn’t so sure about the partnership. He was still trying to make Andale work, and Ko would be a first-time restaurant owner. “But he kept on coming,” Ng says. “I’d lock the doors and he’d keep on coming back.”
That persistence paid off. Ng finally gave in and began to consider the idea seriously. He liked Ko’s ambition — even his aggressiveness. But Ng wasn’t ready to invest in a sit-down restaurant. He though Ko should start small, in the Andale space, with takeout and delivery. And although he’d help him get the restaurant off the ground, Ng wanted it to be Ko’s project entirely. Ko should take center stage.
“What I really like about him is that he believes in his concept,” Ng says.
After that decision, the project came together quickly. Ng helped Ko streamline his recipes for production, and Ko’s parents visited Richmond to test them. By Sunday, JKogi was open for business and selling bulgogi kimbap and choose-your-own rice bowls, Chipotle-style.
“I’m helping someone build their dream,” Ng says. “It’s a good feeling.”