The old Straw Valley spot in Durham is like a cat with nine lives. In a few short years, we’ve seen it morph from Straw Valley Cafe to The Black House to Boheme. Now, it’s ready for it’s newest lease on life as Namu—a Korean restaurant and coffee bar concept from the owners of Bo’s Kitchen and Bulkogi food trucks.
I’m most excited for this restaurant because we already know the food from the trucks is delicious, and any time I hear “Korean pancakes and kimchi,” on a menu, I’m ready to jump in.
We asked food truck owner, Joe Choi, to tell us a little more about what to expect from Namu (which translates to “tree” in Korean); how the food will differ from the food trucks; how they plan to utilize the zen-like space and what the coffee bar will be like…
BBC: How did the collaboration between the two food truck owners come about? Have you both always wanted to open a brick and mortar restaurant?
NAMU: Bo Kwon and I (Joe) met at an event in Raleigh almost three years ago, and since then, have become very good friends. We helped and relied on each other to grow our own businesses. It wasn’t until a recent trip to California together that we talked about the possibility of partnering up to start a new business.
Initially, the idea wasn’t really doing a standard brick and mortar restaurant. We were thinking and brainstorming ideas of something out of the box, that is, until we ended up visiting the Straw Valley location. Touring the place gave us inspiration of what the place could be and how we could utilize the space to bring casual Korean food to Durham.
BBC: What will be some of Namu’s signature dishes? What are some of the similarities and differences between what will be served at Namu and what is currently served on your trucks?
NAMU: We will be serving casual Korean food with high quality ingredients. We will, of course, keep some of the popular dishes that we serve on the truck/s, which will be more modern Korean cuisine with a twist. However, we will also introduce some traditional Korean dishes, such as Han Saang (which literally translates to “one table,” but really means a table full of small dishes that make up one meal), which will be ‘a la carte’ or small dish style. Each person will be given a chance to make their own “han saang” for their meal. We will showcase three different types of Jun (Korean pancakes) as well as two different types of Kimchi. We also plan on having a seasonal menu to reflect what Koreans enjoy eating during a particular season.
BBC: What will be the style of the restaurant?
NAMU: It will be a very casual and laid back experience. We will have a well-decorated upscale feel to the indoor space, but it is not intended as an upscale dining experience.
The outdoor space is unbelievable and will make you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere else. We’re trying to tie all the elements together to not only bring you great food, but also an experience like no other.
BBC: Can you describe the specialty coffee bar aspect?
NAMU: We will be working with local coffee roaster Counter Culture to bring our customers a great coffee bar experience. Our vision is to bring people a simple menu, done right. We won’t overwhelm you with a lot of choices, but the choices we do have will be done well. We also plan on introducing many different types of Korean tea and beverages.
BBC: What drew you to this unique location? How do you plan to utilize the different areas of the property and are you making some updates?
NAMU: It really IS a very unique space. We fell in love with the space right away. I still remember all of us (me, my wife, Shinae, and Bo and his wife, Kyuri) walking in and feeling like we were transported to some other place. It’s one of those spaces you walk into and immediately feel relaxed and peaceful.
We will be using the coffee bar area along with the adjacent 1,500 square foot area as indoor space. (The house that’s in the middle is being used by a holistic spa.)
We will have access to all the outdoor areas as well as the outdoor bar. The outdoor patio area will be open as well, but will also be available for private events. We are making some updates to accentuate the beauty of the place.
BBC: Will it be open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night?
NAMU: The coffee bar will be open in the morning and will serve light breakfast (not Korean); we’re working with other local food trucks to bring some breakfast/bakery items in for the coffee bar. The kitchen will be open for lunch and dinner, and the plan is to stay open later on weekends.
Name is still hoping for a spring opening. As for the food trucks, don’t worry, both will still be in operation when the restaurant opens.