While some restaurants are choosing to hibernate and wait out the winter months, things are just getting ramped up for Scott Drewno, Danny Lee and Andrew Kim, the founders of CHIKO and Fried Rice Collective. Between opening a third location in the DMV area later this winter and keeping their current locations at Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle running to debuting new breakfast concept I Egg You, the past few months have been focused on innovating and moving forward.
It’s All in the Neighborhood
The 2020 RAMMY winner for Casual Restaurant of the Year (by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington), CHIKO leans into the neighborhood vibes that it has a presence in.
“We want to be in a neighborhood,” says Drewno of the team’s penchant for finding a home with nearby residents that double as restaurant regulars. “The joy of living in a neighborhood is the restaurants and retail in your immediate area. I think our key to success has always been our guests that are local and regulars, and we want to provide high-quality food that you can eat at home.”
The team hopes to build on the successes of its Capitol Hill and Dupont locations at the new Bethesda Row outpost. The space follows a similar formula to other CHIKO spots: a residential location, a smaller space with 30 or so seats and a menu that lends itself well to takeout. Although there are no plans in the near future to offer dine-in service, when the time comes, the new space is equipped with garage-style doors for an outdoor dining aesthetic.
Fans of CHIKO can expect to find Chinese-Korean mainstays like the cumin lamb stir fry, soy-glazed brisket and orange-ish chicken. Expect some variations like a seasonal vegetable dish, separate house-fried rice and a dessert that will be unique to the location.
“There will definitely be some new tricks for CHIKO Bethesda,” Drewno notes. “[There will be] some different dishes [and] lunch will be a big component of the launch in Bethesda as well.”
Seventy-five percent of the menu will feature CHIKO classics, leaving room for some adaptations and twists. At the end of the day, for Drewno and his team, it all comes down to guest feedback and delivering what they want. Case in point: Specials such as the bulgogi tots have stayed on the menu at both locations for longer than expected, as well as an ongoing Instagram campaign where the team solicits requests for specials.
“New openings always provide us with new opportunities with new cooks and different perspectives and new managers,” Drewno explains. “We always tend to change and switch for new openings.”
Don’t Call It A Pop-Up
Prior to the pandemic, the fine-casual concept also operated as a bespoke catering business for a variety of off-site events, including 250-person weddings. Business essentially evaporated in March when the pandemic hit, and although the team was primed for a takeout-forward business model, the loss of catering has been felt these past few months. To make up for that lost revenue, the team launched a weekend/daytime concept at their Capitol Hill branch in September – something Drewno and his partners had been considering for some time.
At I Egg You, guests can indulge in stuffed breakfast sandwiches such as the You Bacon Me Crazy with griddled O’Bakery milk bread, brown butter, egg, fontina cheese and loaded with bacon or the open face Lox of Love with Ivy City smoked salmon, capers and I Egg You spice. The menu features local purveyors such as O’ Bread Bakery, Logan Sausage, Ivy City Smokehouse and Rako Coffee.
“Pairing amazing local products and the simplicity of an egg sandwich allows us to create a menu that is not only approachable and affordable, but craveable and delicious,” Drewno says.
The secondary concept allows them to utilize the same team members and kitchen equipment to produce an alternate stream of revenue, all while providing the Capitol Hill neighborhood with a new breakfast option that doesn’t directly compete with CHIKO’s offerings. Regulars can order from the CHIKO menu Friday night for dinner, and in case they don’t want dumplings for breakfast (although they’d be crazy not to, jokes Drewno), they can order from the weekend fixture – just don’t call it a pop-up.
“We didn’t want to call it a pop-up, necessarily, because we believe in the concept,” he says. “Currently, our plans are to concentrate on the Capitol Hill community. We feel fortunate to be surrounded by great families and offer them a great breakfast option.”
2020 and Beyond
Although the pandemic has brought on a year of challenges, Drewno is hopeful for the future, especially when it comes to his team and how they’ve overcome the obstacles of 2020.
“A lot of times through difficult situations, some of the best things are produced,” he says. “This adversity has really galvanized the team.”
As they prepare for a new restaurant opening and a new year, he notes, “Our communication has never been better, our teamwork has never been better [and] our support of one another has never been better.”
Both Capitol Hill and Dupont locations will be offering a special New Year’s take-home menu featuring four courses for $60 per person and the option to add on a “Hangover Kit” from I Egg You for the morning after.