A Korean game of chicken is unfolding in the heart of VCU.
Restaurant chain BonChon has leased 2,380 square feet at 308 N. Laurel St., months after its rival BB.Q Chicken opened a few blocks away at 900 W. Franklin St.
Both chains are Korea-based quick-serve restaurants known for their fried chicken, and both are growing quickly throughout Virginia and the U.S.
Through various franchisees, BonChon operates three locations across the Richmond market in Henrico, Midlothian and Mechanicsville. The VCU location will be the company’s fourth in the area and its first in the city limits.
BonChon could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon about its planned Richmond eatery.
Brokers Alex Wotring and David Crawford with Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer represented BonChon in its lease, while fellow brokers Connie Jordan Nielsen and Alicia Farrell represented the landlord.
Several food tenants have come and gone over the years in the Laurel Street space, including Little Mexico Burrito Chop, Bobalicious frozen yogurt, The Pizza Place and most recently R&B Caribbean Grill.
BB.Q Chicken – an acronym for Best of the Best Quality – opened in March in 2,400 square feet at the corner of Franklin and Schafer streets in the Chesterfield Apartments building.
Ben Kwak, owner of BB.Q’s metro Richmond franchise, opened the brand’s first local location near VCU because of the amount of foot and vehicular traffic during the fall and spring semesters.
He invested about $300,000 in the restaurant, hiring 17 people to staff the 80-seat establishment.
Kwak also is looking to expand BB.Q’s brand in Henrico County and Midlothian.
“It’s slow at times because school is out,” Kwak said this week. “But we expect for it to pick up once students return for the upcoming school year.”
He said the restaurant’s proximity to the Fan and downtown allows him to capitalize on to-go orders and dine-in patrons looking for something different in the area.
“We offer a lot of different flavors for our chicken, such as our olive chicken, secret sweet and honey garlic,” Kwak said. “We also have rice cups and salads.”
BB.Q plans to change its menu in early June to incorporate more combo options. Kwak said it also will include a hot bar, beers on draft and sandwiches. Desserts will be added to the menu, including Bing Soo – a sweet, shaved milk concoction topped with mangos, cookies and cream, green tea or red beans.
A native of South Korea, Kwak has family ties to the chicken business.
“My grandfather had a chicken farm where we harvested eggs when we were kids,” he said. “We were poor, and it was a way for us to make money.”
His father also operated a Korean fried chicken joint on the outskirts of Seoul, where Kwak remembers the purchase of the eatery’s first pressure fryer, an investment that changed everything for the restaurant.
“He had the best fried chicken around, and was very successful,” he said. “I was the most popular kid in school because everyone knew my dad owned the restaurant with the best fried chicken. I guess it stuck.”