While the Washington suburbs boast plenty of Korean barbecue restaurants with tabletop grilling, DC has long suffered a void. Finally, though, things are changing. Duke’s Grocery owner Daniel Kramer is bringing KBQ to Shaw. And now, there’s a second spot for sizzling pork belly and beef bulgogi on the horizon: an outpost of Iron Age Korean Steak House in Columbia Heights.
Iron Age currently has eight locations across the country, plus one in Thailand. Founder Kenny Kim started the chain in Georgia, and he and his family have since expanded the restaurants to Chicago, Maryland (Rockville, Cantonsville), and Virginia (Centreville, Annandale).
Iron Age is known for its affordable all-you-can-eat menus ($20-to-$25 per person in the Washington suburbs) and industrial red-and-black decor. DC diners can expect the same, though some locations have slight menu variations. The Columbia Heights spot, located at 3365 14th St., NW, will likely fit around 35 tables.
The restaurant’s real estate broker, Greg Cho, says the owners have been looking to open in DC for years, but the ventilation system required for smokey tabletop grills made it difficult to find just any building. “We prefer a single story building with nothing above, but as you know, most of the buildings in DC are mixed-use,” Cho says. Beyond the structural issues, Cho adds that it’s difficult to find a landlord who understands the relatively long construction period (a year or more). Most are eager to collect rent as soon as possible.
The space that Iron Age is ultimately leasing is actually two stories, which Cho anticipates will at least be less of challenge than a high-rise building. The corner property previously housed short-lived Jenkins Capital BBQ and, before that, a Ruby Tuesday.
Cho says the restaurant chain already has experience navigating the tricky permitting required for tabletop grilling in other jurisdictions without existing Korean barbecue restaurants. In Catonsville (outside Baltimore), for example, it took up to eight months to obtain all the building permits. “Whatever it takes,” Cho says.
Meanwhile, KBQ owner Kramer is already going through the process to open his Korean barbecue restaurant in The Shay development in Shaw.
“There were other restaurateurs who looked at doing tabletop Korean barbecue in this city, and several that I know of and probably others that I don’t know of, looked at it, thought about it, and said, ‘No we’re not doing it,” Kramer says. “Without getting into too much detail, I have been learning why they said no.”
Ultimately, though, he’s working through it and expects to open this summer. “It’s steady progress,” he says.