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James Park to open Korean chicken concept WingWok in Denver

The former Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh CEO and partners Zach Frisch and Brian Gunning discuss the new restaurant


Former Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh CEO James Park is opening a concept of his own in the white-hot chicken space.

The first WingWok location is slated to open in the Denver suburb of Centennial, Colo., July 7 selling chicken wings, fried chicken sandwiches, chicken burritos and Korean side dishes, along with Korean beer and soju.

Park’s operating partners in the venture are Brian Gunning and Zach Frisch. The chef is Yong Ho.

Another location is under construction, and several more are planned for the next two years, all in the Denver area, according to Frisch.

Park says the concept, which is separate from his recent appointment as operating partner in Mercato Partners’ Savory Funds, will have as strong an online presence as it does a physical one.

“We believe infinitely in the brick-and-mortar space, but we’re also big subscribers to the click-and-order space,” he said. So the restaurant will be marketed with catchy snippets of content customized for different types of social media meant to convince people that they need to buy WingWok’s food.

“Some are long, some are short, and most of them are very much like those really spunky, fun ads that you see on Instagram,” he said. “The ones that … even though you don't really need a pair of shorts, for some reason, you click on it and you're like, ‘These are cool shorts ...  I think I'm going to buy these shorts.’”

The menu leans into the Korean heritage of Park and chef Ho, both of whom were born in South Korea.

Park, besides leading Garbanzo, held executive operational roles at fast-casual chains Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, Charley’s Grilled Subs and Penn Station East Coast Subs. Additionally, he had a global marketing role with convenience store chain 7-Eleven.

Ho, who immigrated to the United States at age 16, is a U.S Army veteran with a fine-dining background who has worked under chefs Joël Robuchon and Gordon Ramsay, among others. He moved to Denver from New York, where he worked at The Clocktower restaurant and Park 432, to open WingWok.

The concept’s four wing sauces, soy garlic, gochujang, citrus and a blue cheese sauce that goes on wings that are treated with a Buffalo-inspired dry rub, are all cooked in a wok where the wings are tossed in them. The sandwich is made with chicken tenders in gochujang sauce with an Asian slaw and, instead of pickles, fresh, thick-sliced cucumbers resembling what would be served in South Korea, according to Park. It’s also called the Miracle Chicken Burger, because “chicken burger” is how that type of sandwich is referred to in Korea, Park said.

Similarly, the burrito is called the Korean Ssam Burrito, because ssam means “wrap” in Korean, and it’s made with chicken and kimchi fried rice in a tortilla.

Side dishes, apart from the kimchi fries and kimchi fried rice, are typical Korean “banchan,” side dishes that accompany traditional meals, such as kimchi, pickled daikon and seaweed salad.

But there are local Colorado elements to the menu, too. The no-antibiotics-ever chicken is from local supplier Red Bird Farms and the bread is from Aspen Baking Company. Gluten-free buns are also available, and all of the menu items besides the sandwich and ssam are gltuen-free.

In this podcast, Park, Frisch and Gunning discuss WingWok and their plans for it.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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