Back in the early summer, Peter Cho — the chef and owner of destination Korean restaurant Han Oak — had a bad case of chef’s block. After months closed, Cho and his partner Sun Young Park had talked about getting into takeout business, tackling dishes that Han Oak had generally avoided: Korean staples like kimbap, bibimbap, and maybe pre-marinated bulgogi to grill at home. But once he got back in the kitchen, it just didn’t feel right. “I had this emotional attachment to what Han Oak is,” Cho says. “I couldn’t pull the trigger.”
So instead, Cho ditched that plan, bringing back some of Han Oak’s quintessential dishes: Fried chicken tossed in a dry spice, little purse-like dumplings, prix-fixe packages of ssam and banchan. Now, a few months in, the Han Oak team is back in the groove, trying out new dishes like bao burgers and pork-and-kimchi-stuffed buns. Still, it didn’t feel right to do bibimbap and kimbap within the walls of Han Oak, a place his family literally called home for several years.
Now, Cho and Park have a solution: The couple will open a new restaurant on the other side of the river, where the team could explore both Korean staples and off-the-cuff experiments. Yesterday, the Oregonian broke the news that Cho and Park would open Toki in the former Tasty N Alder space next month, sticking to takeout for the foreseeable future.
Back in January, Cho and Park had started working on opening a small snack bar next door to Han Oak, which they called Pocha. When the pandemic hit, it just didn’t make sense to go forward with another, long-term investment. “We did a gut renovation, it was going to require a significant amount of money to do a full buildout. When COVID hit and we were trying to figure out what to do, we didn’t want to spend the buildout money,” Cho says. “We were working on all these ideas, all these fun, creative things, and then all that got kind of put on hold.”
It felt like a setback. But months later, loyal customer and real estate developer Greg Goodman offered the couple another opportunity, taking over the Tasty N Alder space as the large Toro Bravo restaurant group began to dissolve. Goodman had shown Cho and Park a few other spaces over the years, but the turnkey nature of Tasty N Alder, spacious and ready to go, made it feel like a better fit.
Now, Cho and Park are brainstorming what Toki will be — it’s a blank slate, an opportunity for the team to experiment with new dishes and see what fits. He is planning on tweaking a version of dolsot bibimbap, where a dome of tahdig-adjacent crispy rice holds in an array of bibimbap components. The kitchen will serve some of the dishes from Han Oak’s current takeout menu, like the burger bao and some of the brunch pastries. And Toki should end up slinging things like kimbap and pre-marinated meats, as promised earlier this year. Cho is excited about the restaurant’s existing grill, which will allow them to expand their grilled meat offerings; he’s also chewing on the idea of selling a wide array of instant noodles, a nod to the restaurant’s legendary Feast after-party when chefs from around the country made and ate instant noodles until around 4 a.m.
However, Cho is still up in the air about what Toki will be, and is enjoying the opportunity to be creative and let things develop naturally. “We have plenty of ideas in our back pocket,” he says. “I like the idea of forcing ourselves into a new project so we can do something new.”
When Toki eventually opens, Han Oak will close temporarily, allowing the team to rethink the space and, potentially, get into some sort of onsite dining, a departure from the couple’s initial stance. “We got freaked, we couldn’t imagine having dine-in,” Cho says. “And you know, I’ve been talking with a lot of restaurant owners in LA in New York, and there are a lot of people who are doing it well and doing it safely. It’s doable, it just does take a lot more work.”
For now, Han Oak is still offering takeout through its website, for both weekend brunch and dinner. Toki will open at 580 SW 12th Avenue.
• Han Oak [Official]
• Toki [Instagram]
• Han Oak team takes over Tasty N Alder space with Toki, a new downtown restaurant and market [O]
• Han Oak May Not Reopen Its Dining Room Until a Vaccine Is Released [EPDX]
• What Is Going On With Toro Bravo? [EPDX]
• The Team Behind Beloved Korean Spot Han Oak Will Open a Tiny Second Restaurant [EPDX]