Atlanta Orders In: ‘Normal dads’ by day, Korean Wives restaurateurs by night

Noona owners chef George Yu (left) and Michael Lo (right).  / Courtesy of Mia Yakel.
Caption
Noona owners chef George Yu (left) and Michael Lo (right). / Courtesy of Mia Yakel.

Credit: Mia Yakel

The interview nearly had reached the hour mark when restaurateur Michael Lo said, “We haven’t even talked about the fact that we are both home-schooling our kids, because our wives have regular jobs and are unavailable to take care of issues. People think that the rest of our lives aren’t impacted. We’re normal dads, too.”

Lo and his business partner, George Yu, operate four restaurants: Korean steakhouse Noona in Duluth, Ramen Station in Grant Park, Suzy Siu’s Baos inside Krog Street Market, and Korean tavern Salaryman in East Lake. Their Korean Wives Hospitality Group references their shared identity as husbands whose Korean-American spouses are working professionals. Lo’s wife is a nurse practitioner; Yu’s is a civil engineer.

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Kalbi Jjim Poutine from Salaryman.
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Kalbi Jjim Poutine from Salaryman.

Credit: Erik Meadows

Credit: Erik Meadows

During the pandemic, Lo and Yu have been essential workers, not only as restaurant operators, but also as daytime caregivers overseeing their kids' virtual learning this fall (Yu has three children, ages 11, 8 and 5; Lo’s are 11 and 8).

When the pandemic hit, Noona closed for 10 weeks. Takeout never had been part of the original business model there. Suzy Siu’s closed for two months — its reopening dependent upon management at the Krog food hall.

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Ramen Station in Grant Park switched to takeout during the pandemic. Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Ramen Station in Grant Park switched to takeout during the pandemic. Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It’s been a different story for Ramen Station and Salaryman. Both immediately pivoted to takeout, and have operated throughout the pandemic.

Salaryman required the most adjustments. “We have one phone line at Salaryman,” Lo said. “The first couple days, people couldn’t get through. I was taking orders over Facebook messenger.

“At the beginning, we were selling toilet paper, yeast, sugar, flour, mayo, ketchup, lemons, limes, onions, because a lot of our customers didn’t want to go to Publix. They didn’t feel safe. I was like a madman trying to source stuff.”

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Salaryman now is open for takeout and patio dining. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com
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Salaryman now is open for takeout and patio dining. Ligaya Figueras / ligaya.figueras@ajc.com

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Lo and Yu commend Krog management for their mediated approach to reopening the food hall, with safety as the top priority. Krog reopened for on-premises dining in June. Lo and Yu opened Suzy Siu’s for takeout-only in May. But, they noted, things are hardly back to normal. A large tent for outdoor dining still sits in the parking lot. And, inside, it’s “eerily empty,” Yu said.

They are grateful for other actions that have benefited their businesses, like Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms allowing Atlanta restaurants to sell beer and wine to go. Also, Salaryman neighbors Poor Hendrix and Mix’D Up Burgers worked with them to build a patio on the shared parking lot. It’s dubbed the Backyard at Hosea and Second, and the three restaurants take turns with the upkeep.

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Takoyaki, or oyster balls, are among the appetizers available at Salaryman. Courtesy of Paula Pontes
Caption
Takoyaki, or oyster balls, are among the appetizers available at Salaryman. Courtesy of Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

When it comes to Noona, they appreciate the open-container ordinance in Duluth, and the weekly calls between the city’s economic development group and downtown merchants. One result from these conversations is a tented area, with picnic tables, erected on the town green. Like the ad hoc outdoor dining area behind Salaryman, it offers a comfortable, safe setting for patrons who want to linger.

Whereas the dining room at Salaryman still is closed to the public, Noona’s is open, and patrons there seem more ready to dine in than intown residents, Lo and Yu said. “Not to get political, but there are definitely different understandings of the severity, and what people are willing to risk,” Lo said.

Lo pointed out the differing guidelines under which Noona operates, compared with his Atlanta restaurants. “In Duluth, there is no mask mandate. Their direction is: Use good judgement.” The Noona staff all wear masks. Guests are asked — but not required — to wear masks when not seated, but “the enforceability of that is extremely difficult. It puts restaurant staff in a hard place," he said.

It’s almost as hard as being “on dad virtual learning patrol” for his two kids.

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

Spicy broiled oysters were on a recent seafood-themed weekend pop-up menu at Salaryman. The theme changes weekly. Courtesy of Paula Pontes
Caption
Spicy broiled oysters were on a recent seafood-themed weekend pop-up menu at Salaryman. The theme changes weekly. Courtesy of Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

Credit: Paula Pontes

SALARYMAN

Menu: regular menu of Japanese-Korean bar and grill fare; rotating themed pop-up menu on weekends

Alcohol: full menu available for on-premises dining (patio only); beer, wine, sake and cocktails for carryout

What I ordered: takoyaki (octopus dumpling balls); fried Asian eggplant; kalbi jjim poutine (poutine topped with Korean beef stew); crispy Korean pork ribs; sides of Napa kimchi and yellow pickled radish; spicy broiled oysters; lobster rolls for two from weekend seafood pop-up menu

Service options: patio dining or takeout; order in person, online or by phone; curbside available; third-party delivery via Uber and Door Dash

Safety protocols: following all COVID-19 restaurant safety guidelines; all staff wear masks; patrons not allowed inside, except to use designated restroom; hand sanitizer stations at takeout window; touchless menu enables viewing on mobile devices

Address, phone: 2371 Hosea L. Williams Drive SE, Atlanta; 404-228-1458

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Website: koreanwives.com/salaryman

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