For Simon Kim, the chicken came first.
“There’s a trifecta of fried chicken, which is the chicken, the batter and the oil,” says Kim, the founder of Gracious Hospitality Management. “So of course we start with the chicken first — because egg was not involved.”
More from WWD
But in many ways, the beef came first. The restauranter, who owns Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse Cote, recently welcomed Korean fried chicken into his hospitality portfolio with the opening of his new restaurant Coqodaq. “I get a little tired of beef at times — even though I always come back to it because I love it so much — and I find myself going to Korean fried chicken restaurants after work with my chefs,” Kim says. “But I couldn’t find a place where they were serving just great quality of chicken.”
Four and a half years in the making, Kim set the Coqodaq plan in motion when the “perfect space” became available on the same block as Cote, in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood. The restaurant opened in mid-January with a VIP party that included a performance by Busta Rhymes and ribbon-cutting with New York Mayor Eric Adams.
Similar to Cote, the central approach at Coqodaq was “procure the best ingredients.” That involved doing a deep-dive into protein sourcing, looking to farms that focused on sustainability, regenerative agriculture and heirloom breeds of pasture-raised chicken. The culinary team developed a gluten-free batter made from rice flour and starch, and are frying their chicken in an oil made from non-GMO fermented sugarcane. Used oil will be upcycled as biodiesel, and the restaurant’s food waste will be sent to a local mushroom farm.
“We’re not going to bill ourselves as a sustainable restaurant. What we want to be known for is best-tasting fried chicken and the best vibe and best Champagne list,” Kim says. “But it’s our job to do a little more than that,” he adds. “We try to minimize as much guilt as possible, while retaining the carnal joyfulness of fried chicken.”
Coqodaq collaborated with the Rockwell Group on the restaurant’s design. “We wanted to create the cathedral of fried chicken. And while ‘cathedral’ sounds very grandiose, ‘fried chicken’ doesn’t,” says Kim, adding that the idea was to synergize the coziness of fried chicken with the slickness of a high-end restaurant. The focal point of the room is a “ghost arch” that extends over the room’s lineup of plush banquettes.
“The hospitality and the quality of the ingredients is world class, but ultimately what you’re eating is fried chicken,” Kim adds. “We really tried to make it elegant enough, but also very comfortable and dark and vibey enough so that it can have the best of both worlds.”
The restaurant’s name is a portmanteau of French and Korean words for chicken — “coq” and “dak” — and riffs on the sound of a chicken, as its conveyed in South Korea. At Coqodaq, the French influence manifests in the restaurant’s beverage program, which features a robust Champagne list with an emphasis on bottles under $100. In addition to pairing well with chicken, which will be served alongside a suite of pickled vegetables and condiments, the Champagne is also primed to accompany the menu’s raw bar and caviar options.
In addition to opening Coqodaq, the group is expanding its Cote portfolio to Singapore, the first Cote location outside of the U.S. While focus for the time being is on the two recent openings, Kim has bigger ambitions for the group, including collaborations and partnerships with hotels. “We look at restaurants as a brand, not as just a brick-and-mortar restaurant where we serve food and beverage. So we want to continuously build the brand,” says Kim, who references French conglomerate LVMH as an inspiration.
“Someone that I really look up to is Arnault,” he says. “He took a luxury brand and really was able to expand and grow. And I’m truly inspired by that.”
Best of WWD