Last summer, during the height of the pandemic, Eddie Song took a walk through Manhattan’s Koreatown. The food entrepreneur, who founded the Korilla BBQ food truck and chain of fast-casual restaurants, observed a few things: The restaurants with narrow storefronts could squeeze only a couple tables into their streeteries. The six-foot rule between parties further reduced the number of tables, which meant that waits could be long. Plus, second-story restaurants — which Koreatown has a lot of, compared to other neighborhoods — couldn’t participate in outdoor dining. And there was a vacant lot right on the corner of 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue, where construction on a residential tower had stalled. Ever the businessperson, Song saw an opportunity: Turn it into outdoor seating for Koreatown restaurants that needed more space.
In June, Song’s concept — Maiden Korea — opened to customers. It’s nothing short of a super-streetery. Composed of two sidewalk sheds and a beer garden in the adjacent lot, Maiden Korea has a capacity of about 200 people. It features an alluring design by Dash Marshall — an architecture firm founded by Ritchie Yao, Amy Yang, and Bryan Boyer in 2009 — that solves many of the problems that have plagued streeteries over the past year, such as challenges with lighting, air circulation, and security, along with the perception that these sheds are essentially just shacks. Above all, Dash Marshall wanted to make customers and neighbors feel excited about dining out through a design that feels novel yet familiar.
So far, two neighboring restaurants have decided to try Song’s experimental business model: Kushi Kushi Yaki, which only has a 10-foot-wide streetery outside its storefront, and Gopchang Story, a second-floor restaurant adjacent to the beer garden on Fifth Avenue. Diners at Maiden Korea can order food from either restaurant through an app, which Song developed, and the dishes are delivered from the restaurants to their tables. (Maiden Korea takes a 15 percent cut from food orders.) Now that the beer garden is open, Song hopes to onboard more restaurants, which were unsure about the concept when he pitched it. “People didn’t really believe what we were trying to do at first,” Song says. “I was like, We just gotta build this out. People need to see it to believe it.”
Dash Marshall’s roof design addresses the balance between welcoming natural light and not overheating guests by using opaque panels of corrugated metal that have translucent polycarbonate cutouts that let in sunlight. The geometric roof cutouts — like circles and triangles — make graphic patterns that elevate familiar construction materials. From the inside, diners can look up through the semicircle roof cutout and see the top of the Empire State Building. Small gaps at the roof’s top and base help with air flow.
“After the terrible year we had in 2020, we wanted to project a sense of optimism and build something that looks toward the future, but at the same time does not forget about what’s familiar for people and look to the past,” Ritchie Yao says of the design concept. “If you look at the shed, for example, it’s this iconic pitched-roof house. If it were a child drawing a house, this would be the shape of it.”
Inside the street sheds, built-in benches line the perimeter, enabling the most space-saving flexibility for seating. “You could put in one large table and have the entire street shed as a private dining experience,” Yao says. About 40 people can sit comfortably in the streeteries, and the beer-garden space is permitted for 173 people.
The sheds aren’t flush with the sidewalk, so Dash Marshall designed removable ramps for accessibility. Security for the sheds was another concern, so the designers fashioned sliding doors out of fiberglass grates, which are more commonly used for gangways in industrial settings. Yao and Song originally wanted a blue-and-orange theme for the space — to riff on Mets and Knicks colors — but the lead time for that colorway was three months, so they chose yellow instead. The grid also nods to the interior of Korilla Metrotech, a restaurant Dash Marshall designed for Song.
Wood prices were three times higher than they normally would be when Yao was designing the open restaurant, so he used the material as sparingly as he could. The walls are composed of the same fiberglass grates that the street shed doors are made from. Of the circular metal roofs over the beer garden, Yao says: “We were trying to project a sense of futurism in the space. We liked the fact that, from a distance, you could kind of see like the pitch roof of the sheds, and then you have these little UFO saucers.”
The beer-garden section of the open restaurant is composed of semi-private booths that can each hold between eight and ten people, the maximum allowable group size at restaurants during reopening. The booths are inspired by pojangmacha, tented street-food stalls that originally emerged in postwar Seoul and were made with whatever materials were on hand. If Song wants to expand, the modular design makes it easy to do so. The booths are furnished with classic picnic tables for a nostalgic feel.
Lush plants fill the streetery and beer garden, and they were surprisingly hard to source. (The winter storm in the South hurt nurseries that grow a lot of the country’s houseplant supply.) “Prices skyrocketed like with everything else,” Song says. He discovered that Lowe’s was one of the best sources for plants, and in the weeks before opening, he scoured as many locations as he could in New York City and on Long Island. “I almost drove all the way out to Montauk and the Hamptons,” he adds.
Photographs by Mark Wickens