Kochi Korean BBQ & Shabu Shabu, a Korean fusion restaurant, recently opened up in Atascadero — the first of its kind on the Central Coast.
Owners Jennifer Kim and Chris Huang opened the restaurant on Jan. 1 in an 11,000-square-foot, two-story space at 6900 El Camino Real. The building, which has been vacant for several years, formerly housed Hoover’s 101 Cafe.
This is the second restaurant for Kim, who co-owns popular sushi and seafood restaurant Kai Lana in Atascadero with her brother, Austin Kim.
Kim said they purchased the building for Kochi Korean BBQ & Shabu Shabu two years ago. She declined to disclose the purchase price, but said the property was bank owned, so they got a good price on it.
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More than $1 million has been spent on extensive renovations, although some final touches, including additions to the bakery section, are still underway, Kim said. The restaurant also is waiting for its beer and wine license. Once a new elevator is installed, the second floor will be opened to the public, which Kim expects to happen in a month.
The first floor is a dining area that includes a bar, a bakery that serves Korean baked goods and a kids lounge where children can play while waiting for food.
The second floor will be used as a banquet area, or dining room for large parties, Kim said. Both floors seat up to 200 people.
The menu offers a variety of authentic Korean food and traditional Korean dishes, along with Shabu-Shabu, a tradition from Japanese cuisine that the restaurant has developed into Korean, Kim said. Appetizers range from $10 to $13, entrees from $12 to $25 and Korean barbecue for $18 to $30.
Each table is equipped with a self-cooking barbecue grill — customers cook the fresh meats and vegetables at the table themselves.
“It’s all about keeping food warm while you’re enjoying it,” said Kim.
Servers spend a lot of time explaining the detailed menu and cooking process to first-time customers, Kim said, so they’re seeking customers’ patience as they do this.
The restaurant has a staff of 22 full-time employees and expects to hire 10 people part time, Kim said.
She said she was driven to open Kochi Korean BBQ & Shabu Shabu after seeing the success of Kai Lana, which she operates down the road at 3000 El Camino Real. Kim expects the two restaurants to work well together since they offer different cuisines. “Kai Lana is already loved by many residents, and we (Kochi Korean BBQ & Shabu Shabu) are just an addition to that,” she said.
Kai Lana has seen an 8 percent to 10 percent consecutive sales increase each year, Kim said. She declined to disclose annual sales and profits for the restaurant.
Kim is planning a renovation of Kai Lana in late spring — to change the floor plan, add booth seating, renovate the sushi bar and furniture, and possibly extend the patio.
Finding qualified individuals who live locally to work in the restaurants is one of the main challenges Kim said she faces in operating both eateries. She added that the detailed menu requires staff who are willing to commit to learning the cuisine.
After operations at Kochi Korean BBQ & Shabu Shabu are settled — in about six months to a year — Kim said, she will work with her family on a mixed-use commercial and residential project in the downtown district on El Camino Real. Kim said they have obtained a lot, and hope the project will draw local residents and tourists to downtown Atascadero.
Kim said she also hopes to open a third restaurant in Atascadero.
“I’d like to see the city of Atascadero happening here downtown, so that when tourists come, they have something to enjoy and walk around.”
Danielle Ames: 805-781-7902