Gangchu, a new Korean fried chicken and beer joint, welcomed the general public for the first time Tuesday afternoon. The restaurant’s surprise opening was announced on Instagram just one day earlier,
With this follow-up to his highly successful micro-chain of Ichicoro ramen shops, owner Noel Cruz once again drew upon the places he frequented during his time living in New York City.
“We’re not necessarily trying to recreate that exact experience,” says Cruz. “It’s about creating places for people to have fun.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and this became the right time and place for it.”
The black-painted cinderblock building is located in Seminole Heights, on Nebraska Avenue near Knollwood Street. Cruz’s partner for the concept, Chris Clamp, owns the Cement Tile Shop in the same Tampa neighborhood.
“We really love the area,” says Cruz. “I want to put in a lot of effort supporting the neighborhood…I see a lot of potential.”
The opening of Gangchu brings chimaek to Old Seminole Heights. It is a traditional pairing of fried chicken (chikin) and beer (maekju) as an extension of the Korean concept of anju, roughly translated as “food with alcohol.”
The bar is the focal point of the dining room, spreading across the back edge with seats for up to fifteen customers inside. A rolling door in the rear wall of the building opens to the restaurant’s spacious patio, which features more dining space.
The bar is also a focal point on the menu. Gangchu opened with five beers on tap, including offerings from local breweries 7eventh Sun, Hidden Springs and St. Pete Brewing, along with canned beer from Coppertail and 7eventh Sun.
Diverting slightly from the literal chimaek definition, however, the fully licensed bar also features nine signature cocktails, including three on tap, and a wide selection of liquors and wines.
“I think the beverage program is going to be a big feature for us, and that’s why we put so much emphasis on it,” says Cruz.
“With the original Ichicoro, the greater majority of the focus is on the food. Here, we wanted to have just as much fun at the bar. It just creates a wider experience.”
That’s where Kyle Casiano comes in. A transplant from the ramen chain, the new Gangchu bar manager consulted with Ichicoro beverage manager John McKinnon to curate offerings that pair well with the kitchen menu.
“We wanted to keep it nice and refreshing, kind of on the tropical side” with just a nod to the tiki drink, says Casiano. “It’s a lot of bitter notes, a lot of fruit flavors. We wanted to have a balance of spice and sweetness.”
The nine signature cocktails are named after streets in Seminole Heights. Casiano expects the Nebraska, a rum-based draft cocktail with citrus soju and Opera Prima brut, to be Gangchu’s best seller. But a contender could be the Highland, a Scotch drink with ginger and plenty of tropical fruit.
The food menu, while chicken-focused and minimal, could also have some surprise favorites. During sneak previews and family gatherings, Cruz noticed the kimchi pancake was a popular option. But he expects the sleeper item to be Gangchu’s bulgogi-based cheesesteak.
“I think, after a few libations, who wouldn’t want a cheesesteak to soak up the night?” Cruz says. “It’s about comforting, casual, fun food.”
Tuesday’s opening was the payoff to a years-long journey for Cruz and Clamp, who experienced the same pandemic-related frustrations as most small businesses have seen lately. When the doors finally opened, it was something of a weight off their chests.
“Just seeing it come to life, from an idea on a piece of paper to having guests inside, it feels really great,” says Cruz.
Gangchu is open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday, and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The restaurant will be closed Mondays.