Tofu restaurant finds home near U

The Oak Street Southeast building has hosted five restaurants in three years.

Pong Yun Kim scrubs the stove Sunday morning at the Kimchi Tofu House.  The Korean style restaurant is located on Oak Street and Washington Avenue.

Pong Yun Kim scrubs the stove Sunday morning at the Kimchi Tofu House. The Korean style restaurant is located on Oak Street and Washington Avenue.

by Jennifer Bissell

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.
âÄúIt tastes very special because I never see this kind of food,âÄù University of Minnesota junior Yiming Tao said. âÄúYou have a big bowl of rice and vegetables but you also have some small dishes with pickles. ThatâÄôs very special.âÄù
Building owner Bill Nicklow said that he thinks the restaurant will do better than some of the previous ones, two of which he owned.
âÄúIf you know what youâÄôre doing and you got good food and the price is right, I think that people are there, and I think they can do well,âÄù Nicklow said.
The building is roughly 20 feet wide and seats around 22 people tightly, but Nicklow said the reasons for the previous businessesâÄô 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 couldnâÄôt 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.
âÄúYou have to specialize in something because the place is small,âÄù Nicklow said. âÄú[The Yummy Yummy owner] had a big menu, and when you have a big menu you donâÄôt do a good job.âÄù
Azuki Sushi would sometimes gross more than $2,000 a day, Nicklow said. âÄúWhen you have that kind of a volume youâÄôre doing well âÄî very well.âÄù
After Azuki Sushi moved out, Nicklow tried opening businesses of his own. First he opened Tsunami Sushi and then Little TonyâÄôs before leasing the space to the Kimchi Tofu House.
âÄúTsunami âÄî I knew nothing about it. I had to hire a lot of people âĦ fish is expensive, and I wasnâÄôt making any money so we turned it into Little TonyâÄôs,âÄù Nicklow said. âÄúWe had steady customers, but I didnâÄôt do as well as I wanted to.âÄù
âÄúThe volume wasnâÄôt there,âÄù Nicklow added. âÄúInstead of fighting it, these fellows came along; they said they like the place. I say âÄòYou like it? Take it.âÄô âÄù
Tsunami lasted four months and Little TonyâÄôs, an extension of TonyâÄôs Diner in Dinkytown, ran another four months, Nicklow said.
âÄúI was grossing around $400 to $500 a day, but thatâÄôs not enough. You have people working, and students and licenses and all those things âÄî youâÄôre just trading dollars, spinning the wheels,âÄù Nicklow said. âÄúWhen you have a lot of employees and low gross sales, then you feel it and it hurts.âÄù
The owners of the Kimchi Tofu House said they opened the restaurant, despite past businessesâÄô failures, because they think they will do well and know the area is popular with students.
âÄú[WeâÄôve been] open not even [a] month and itâÄôs just every day, more people,âÄù Iverson said, adding people feel theyâÄôre getting their moneyâÄôs worth.
Leaving the shop, sophomore Ye Zhao agreed.
 âÄúI 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.
âÄúThe price here is more acceptable, so maybe itâÄôs a good place for us to come and have dinner [or] lunch,âÄù Zhao said. âÄúI think this one is going to be better.âÄù