Maybe the rarest species in the restaurant world is the one that actually opens on time. No one expects this to happen, for all sorts of good reasons, but even delayed restaurants do eventually open. Konbini, a new Koreatown spot from a first-time restaurateur, seemed all set to go last week. Inspired by Japanese convenience stores, the café was conceived as a to-go spot during the day and a counter-service izakaya at night. The “grand opening” was planned for yesterday, as recently noted in the New York Times.
By last Friday, owner Sarah Kang had even opened the front door for a “soft” opening. (In other words: It was open.) Kang was there that day along with others including Sungchul Shim, a former Neta chef who’d helped with the menu, and Kang’s head of all things caffeine, Ujae Lee. There was limited food available, but you could still get a few things — a pork katsu sandwich on white bread, a square of brioche stuffed with custard, or a bowl of unagi don. Customers were floating in that day, Konbini broadcast its opening on social media, and Food Baby made the requisite early-bird visit. Then on Monday, the place just didn’t open, and a rep for the café says it won’t open at all. Despite at least appearing to be fully operational, Konbini is already kaput.
This was not, it seems, some last-minute issue. It wasn’t even that Kang & Co. needed another day or two to regroup or maybe tinker with a few things so the place was golden. Even more strangely, the precise reason for the instant deep six isn’t clear. (Grub has attempted to contact Kang and will update this post if and when we hear back.) A representative for the restaurant reached out on Sunday, initially saying the only information they had was that it would “not be opening” on the planned day. Then yesterday, the PR rep followed up, saying that Konbini will no longer open at all and that the owners will instead “be working on something new.” Shim confirmed the news, adding that the owners “decided to change the whole concept.”
The restaurant was put through the motions of a soft opening, was announced to the world, and now … just won’t open. When Kang spoke to Grub on Friday, she talked excitedly about the Moonsub illustration she’d commissioned for one wall and said she first came up with the idea while at cooking school in Tokyo. Konbini the concept had managed to make it all the way across the Pacific with Kang, but now it won’t cross the finish line, and we suddenly have lots of questions.
This post has been updated with comment from Sungchul Shim.