The explosion of food trucks in the Twin Cities is a recent development, and following on its heels is another: the transition from food truck start-up to full-fledged, brick-and-mortar restaurant. Much of this type of expansion has occurred within Minneapolis and St. Paul, but in late 2015, one appeared in Eden Prairie—Gogi Bros.
Gogi Bros is the brainchild of John Park, who grew up in Chanhassen, and his friend Frederik Anderson. (The word Gogi means “meat” in Korean). Like other food truck proprietors, Park is passionate about food. But unlike the other proprietors, he came into the business with no formal training or experience. “I have no basis in being a chef,” he says. “But I always make leaps. I used to be a general contractor, then worked in auto body.”
His love of Korean food is what prompted him to make the leap into the food world. “I couldn’t get real Korean barbecue here,” he says. “I’ve always cooked from family tradition. I wanted to get this food out there, but real Korean food can be more expensive than some ethnic foods. Starting in a food truck kept costs low, it wasn’t as spendy.”
The truck gained popularity and loyal customers who, over 18 months, raised the same question over and over: “Where is your real restaurant?” People wanted to have more frequent access than a food truck could provide. But instead of seeking out a Minneapolis or St. Paul address, Park wanted to look closer to home. “There was no Korean food in the west metro,” he says.
He found a location just off Shady Oak Road that he thought looked promising, with a significant amount of both residential and business buildings nearby that could potentially develop into a customer base. Then he brought in Travis Devine, who worked as a food industry consultant and trainer at the time, and was a childhood friend of Park’s and Anderson’s and had grown up in Bloomington. They rolled up their sleeves and went to work and did all of the restaurant’s interior construction themselves.
Devine is now part owner of Gogi Bros. and works as the front-of-house manager. He will eventually develop a mixed-drinks menu, once the restaurant has its liquor license, which they estimate they will have by this fall. “I want to take a different approach, use a lot of different purees and shrubs, not just sake and Triple Sec,” Devine says. “The cocktail menu would have artisan drinks, drinks that work with the food.”
The food is, of course, Korean. The menu is small, but thoughtfully composed. “We took the hot items from the food truck and added some more creative dishes,” Park says. “We wanted to keep it somewhat small, not make it a menu of hundreds of things. We specialize in the items we choose to serve.”
That means a menu made of a variety of dishes that run the gamut from mild to spicy (although Park notes that he can accommodate individual preferences for heat on many items). Many are meat-based, as is traditional in Korean food, but can easily be adapted for vegetarians and vegans. Dishes are accompanied by several small plates known as banchan, which can include anything from a mild cucumber pickle to spicier condiments.
When asked how someone who has never tried Korean food should approach the Gogi Bros. menu, Park had several suggestions. “Be open-minded, and feel free to ask questions,” he says. “The servers know the food very well. Let them know if you like spicy or not, and they can guide you. If you like it extra spicy, let them know that too, because we can add in heat.”
Beyond that, he paints a picture of what a traditional Korean meal would look like: “Korean meals are usually served family style, so try to share with the others at your table,” he says. “The traditional meal is made up of rice, soup, protein, and sides. So maybe order two different proteins to share.” He notes that while Gogi Bros serves between three and five sides, the Korean royal families of the past had more than 30; the huge number of sides was a sign of wealth.
Another way to experiment with the Korean food is to try the two-person “Korean Crash Course” offering. That provides a wide range of flavors and options and includes two items (pork belly and brisket) not served elsewhere on the menu. The meats are all slow-marinated (a minimum of 24 hours, some as long as 72 hours), and no MSG is used. Park points out that most of the menu items are gluten-free as well.
Since opening in November 2015, Gogi Bros. has built up a loyal customer base, with both local employees and residents and fans of authentic Korean food from other areas. “We get a lot of Korean exchange students from the University of Minnesota,” Park says, “and lots of people from St. Paul and Minneapolis. We’ve even had people drive up from Rochester.”
Part of their audience has come from the location, but they’ve also had considerable word of mouth. “We get people all the time who tell us someone else told them about our food,” Park says.
For now, the food truck is idling while the restaurant takes off. Park and Devine would like to see it back on the street eventually, but they’re focused on the eatery. They also have lots of ideas for the future. They’ve added a few new things to the menu, including kimchi pancakes and seafood pancakes. They’d also like to launch some events to draw people who aren’t familiar with Korean food, including televised sports, karaoke and LAN parties. “So many people haven’t experienced this food yet,” Park says. “We’d love to expose them to it, help them learn about the Korean family style of eating. It’s about the history and education of this type of food. We want to keep it alive.”
(The Korean BBQ Crash Course for two with a side of pot stickers and a
round of Milkis (a South Korean soft drink) at Gogi Bros. in Eden