Fast food joint brings Korean barbeque to Easton Avenue
For most people, Korean barbecue is an infrequent indulgence, often reserved for special occasions. Few restaurants serve Korean fare at the speed of a fast food chain such as McDonald’s or Chipotle, but in New Brunswick, one restaurant is dishing out Korean barbecue on a wider scale and at a quicker pace.
Timothy Hsu opened KBG Korean BBQ & Grill at 6 Easton Ave. during the summer of 2011. His goal was to make normally expensive or only buffet-style Korean barbecue more accessible and affordable. With a background in food preparation, Hsu was able to apply his experience in the industry to deliver a quality product.
KBG specializes in serving Korean barbecue quickly and efficiently and their menu offers complete customization. For only $7, the customer selects a taco, burrito or bowl with rice or noodles and lettuce or cabbage.
Customers can choose a protein (bulgogi beef, tofu, spicy pork or barbecue chicken) and a number of different vegetables (kimchi, kimchi cucumber, pickled cucumber, daikon carrots, corn, bean sprouts, fish cake, tomato, spinach and cheese) to add to their meal.
Finally, customers can top their order with one of eight different sauces. The restaurant’s “KBG sauce” is particularly popular, made in-house according to a secret recipe and also available for purchase in bottles.
But KBG’s menu was not always so personalized. Until September of 2012, all menu items at KBG were cooked to order. Then, when Hsu and the kitchen staff experienced a backup caused by a sudden rush of 50 patrons, Hsu knew he needed to make a change.
“It would take about 15 to 20 minutes for you to get your food,” Hsu said. “People don’t want to wait, so how do you provide that service where you can meet that demand?”
The answer was a Chipotle-style method of preparation, where the customer can watch as their order is assembled and each dish is completed almost instantly. Since changing the system, KBG has been able to offer quality food at an impressive speed.
“We want to strive to be the finest, the fastest and the freshest,” Hsu said.
KBG also provides a catering service, offering both platters and boxes of pre-made tacos, burritos or bowls. Available on the catering menu is KBG’s ever-so-popular tonkatsu, a Japanese-style breaded pork cutlet. Though the tonkatsu is no longer a regular menu item at the restaurant, Hsu recommends customers inquire if any is available when placing their order.
To maximize the customer’s experience, Hsu is perpetually making subtle improvements to his restaurant. Most recently, he switched to a superior brand of Angus meat for KBG’s bulgogi beef — a minor change which reflects his dedication to serving a top-quality product.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Hsu said. “Maybe it’s the oil, maybe it’s the temperature, the [cooking] duration. There’s always something to improve.”
KBG recently underwent a more dramatic change through the introduction of a new bubble tea counter, allowing customers to witness the preparation of their beverages in plain sight.
In addition to more traditional milk teas and fruit teas, KBG offers more than 20 specialty drinks, many of which possess unique and unusual names — “The D Bag” mixes almond with taro, while “The J Lin” combines strawberry and coconut.
In the coming weeks, KBG plans to begin offering macarons in eight different flavors — vanilla, chocolate, orange, Earl Grey, coffee, lemon, passion fruit, raspberry and salted caramel. Miniature macarons would sell for $1.25 each, while original macarons, sized much larger than usual, would sell for $2.25. The restaurant plans to offer additional flavors seasonally.
Hsu appreciates customer feedback and is always receptive to suggestions. If demand is high, he might consider bringing back KBG’s discontinued “kimchi fries,” French fries covered in grilled kimchi and cheddar cheese.
As the semester begins, Hsu is looking for ways to better familiarize his customer base with the KBG name. Last December, Hsu partnered with RU Screw’d to offer a promotion whereby customers who sent creative Snapchats could receive discounts on menu items.
Hsu looks forward to further connecting with the 500 users who submitted photos.
“The whole point of doing that campaign ... was to keep the interaction going,” he said. “I want KBG to be known not just as a restaurant, but as a personality.”
Hsu is also seeking ways to connect with the student community at Rutgers University.
In the past, the restaurant has hosted fundraisers for various student organizations, fraternities and sororities. In addition, KBG is approved to cater cultural events on campus. Hsu is even searching for local artists and students interested in displaying their artwork on the walls inside the KBG restaurant.
In the future, Hsu hopes to one day expand his business and possibly start a franchise.
“It is my goal to have a couple of locations,” Hsu said. “In the mean time, I want to make this one location the best that it can be.”
For now, Timothy Hsu can be found hard at work behind the counter, treating each customer like family at KBG, his home away from home.