Korean restaurant Kimchi Tofu House moved into Stadium Village last month, making it the fifth restaurant in three years to occupy its Oak Street Southeast building.
Located between Chipotle and the Oak Street Cinema, the building has been home to a range of eateries, the latest of which offers 12 variations of soft tofu stews and other Korean dishes like kalbi barbecue, tteokbokki and kimbap rolls.
Owners Pong Kim and Okwha Iverson said that while the area has a few Korean restaurants already, none offer a tofu menu like theirs.
“It tastes very special because I never see this kind of food,” University of Minnesota junior Yiming Tao said. “You have a big bowl of rice and vegetables but you also have some small dishes with pickles. That’s very special.”
Building owner Bill Nicklow said that he thinks the restaurant will do better than some of the previous ones, two of which he owned.
“If you know what you’re doing and you got good food and the price is right, I think that people are there, and I think they can do well,” Nicklow said.
The building is roughly 20 feet wide and seats around 22 people tightly, but Nicklow said the reasons for the previous businesses’ failures go beyond the size.
Korean restaurant Yummy Yummy applied for their operating license in August 2007, lasting only seven months before Azuki Sushi applied in March 2008, according to the city of Minneapolis.
Nicklow said the owner of Yummy Yummy couldn’t make enough money, and the owners of Azuki Sushi, though successful in the location, left the restaurant after a year to move back to the East Coast.
“You have to specialize in something because the place is small,” Nicklow said. “[The Yummy Yummy owner] had a big menu, and when you have a big menu you don’t do a good job.”
Azuki Sushi would sometimes gross more than $2,000 a day, Nicklow said. “When you have that kind of a volume you’re doing well – very well.”
After Azuki Sushi moved out, Nicklow tried opening businesses of his own. First he opened Tsunami Sushi and then Little Tony’s before leasing the space to the Kimchi Tofu House.
“Tsunami – I knew nothing about it. I had to hire a lot of people … fish is expensive, and I wasn’t making any money so we turned it into Little Tony’s,” Nicklow said. “We had steady customers, but I didn’t do as well as I wanted to.”
“The volume wasn’t there,” Nicklow added. “Instead of fighting it, these fellows came along; they said they like the place. I say ‘You like it? Take it.’ “
Tsunami lasted four months and Little Tony’s, an extension of Tony’s Diner in Dinkytown, ran another four months, Nicklow said.
“I was grossing around $400 to $500 a day, but that’s not enough. You have people working, and students and licenses and all those things – you’re just trading dollars, spinning the wheels,” Nicklow said. “When you have a lot of employees and low gross sales, then you feel it and it hurts.”
The owners of the Kimchi Tofu House said they opened the restaurant, despite past businesses’ failures, because they think they will do well and know the area is popular with students.
“[We’ve been] open not even [a] month and it’s just every day, more people,” Iverson said, adding people feel they’re getting their money’s worth.
Leaving the shop, sophomore Ye Zhao agreed.
“I know there are so many Korean students. They like the Korean food, so this might be their main restaurant. I think [the restaurant] will have a stable income.
“The price here is more acceptable, so maybe it’s a good place for us to come and have dinner [or] lunch,” Zhao said. “I think this one is going to be better.”