The Korean pop-up restaurant Haenyo hosted its first dinner service at PekoPeko Ramen on Monday as part of its weekly series in October.
Every Monday, through the end of the month, the Baltimore-based startup will transform the Charles Village ramen shop into a Korean stew house, featuring traditional soups and stews as well as other Korean dishes.
Founded by Hopkins Class of 2014 alumnus Irvin Seo and Towson University alumnus Collin Morstein, Haenyo first debuted in May at Holy Crepe Cafe in Canton.
The duo, who met while working at Remington butchery and restaurant Parts & Labor, began their idea for a pop-up after hosting a dinner party together for their friends.
The concept of Haenyo came about after Seo went on a month-long trip to Korea not long after the dinner party.
“[In Korea] I was thinking, ‘I’m eating so much amazing stuff, stuff that I know how to make and I’ve had before in my house growing up,’” Seo said. “But this is my seventh year here in Baltimore and I haven’t had a single one of these dishes since I’ve come out here.”
Though Baltimore is home to several popular Korean restaurants, Seo and Morstein realized that none of them were taking a chance on serving traditional dishes.
“I just never find myself at the Korean restaurants, because no one here really wants to ever go, except for like late night drunk Korean food. That’s not all it is,” Seo said. “Our whole goal is to continue expanding into the whole world of Korean cuisine and do a lot more traditional stuff.”
Morstein said that one of the hopes for Haenyo is to attract both those familiar and unfamiliar with traditional Korean dishes.
“I think there’s a sweet spot where if Korean Americans are coming and they’ve tasted this food before and have expectations, they come back, and that’s great,” he said. “The other side of the coin is if we’re able to introduce people to this wholly new thing for them, that’s awesome too.”
The menu for Haenyo’s October series features several seasonal recipes, based on the produce that grows locally.
Since the climate in Baltimore is fairly similar to that of a lot of Korea, many of the same fruits and vegetables can grow in both locations. Most of the produce in Haenyo’s dishes is sourced locally from Karma Farms in Monkton, Maryland.
As for their favorite items on the menu, both Morstein and Seo pointed to sundubu-jjigae, a soft tofu stew.
“It’s got so many of the quintessential Korean elements in it, like the spicy and the almost tangy from the fermented kimchi and a little fishy too,” Seo said.
The opening night of Haenyo at PekoPeko Ramen was busier than the owners anticipated. While the pop-up was supposed to stay open from 5 to 10 p.m., the kitchen closed at 8 p.m. after running out of food due to a high amount of traffic.
After their first run, however, Morstein said that he and Seo are more prepared for next week in terms of food supply.
“Over ordering is a huge issue, because we don’t have the luxury of having service [the next day],” Morstein said. “We try to be conservative with what we order, but... we’ll just increase that by a magnitude of ten. We’re excited! Hopefully it’s the same volume; hopefully people will come back and give us another shot.”
As an alumnus, Seo was excited to introduce Haenyo to the Hopkins community, and he and Morstein found that the University’s connections, particularly the Baltimore Young Alumni Committee, have greatly helped them with their business.
“I’m an outsider. I didn’t go here, but I’ve been pretty amazed at how supportive the alumni community has been for us,” Morstein said. “It’s really cool and has been great to experience.”
Regarding the future of Haenyo, Morstein said that both he and Seo are content with the pop-up restaurant model for the time being.
“This is awesome and such a great setup; there’s tons of flexibility. We get to meet new people; we get to meet new chefs, owners; we get to travel,” Morstein said. “That freedom and not having that preoccupation of stress of owning a building and an entire staff is nice.”