Get your bulgogi at Spoon’s in La Plata
Three siblings brought their mother’s barbecue success to La Plata and have added her home country’s influences to fill out the Spoon’s Korean American BBQ’s menu.
The restaurant at Rosewick Crossing (the Lowe’s shopping center) offers a parallel menu of hickory smoked barbecue cuts straight from Helen Spooner’s recipe book at George’s BBQ in Indian Head, plus similar meats done Korean-style — marinated and seasoned, then finished on a grill. The sides have the same dual personality: collard greens, coleslaw, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, potato salad and green beans on one side, kimchi, kongnamul (bean sprout), broccoli salad and sweet and sour daikon (radish) on the other.
“Mom (Helen) came over here from Korea [in 1982],” said Jennifer Sylvestre, who owns the new restaurant with her sister Hannah McCuen and brother Joshua Spooner. “She’s had several successful businesses, and then this particular barbe- cue restaurant (George’s) stuck. It established a presence in that community, and the reputation has even gone as far as North Carolina.
“Mom took that business — it was literally called a shack, it looked like a shack — and she literally turned it over. It was literally dwindling and dying down. She grew it to a point that it was fairly successful, and then we had arson.”
George’s, which has been in the family 17 years, was burned to the ground five years ago. A combination of the Spoon- er tenacity and community support brought it back to life.
“Now it’s established, and it’s very successful,” Sylvestre said of George’s. “Now, we’ve been able to open this particular one, and we’re looking to continue to build within Charles County, continue to expand. I think we’re looking at Waldorf now.”
Hannah McCuen, who’s worked alongside her mother at George’s “since I was old enough to work,” said the three have seen some hesitancy about the “ethnic” side of the menu, but hopes more people will give it a try.
“The combination is us: the American barbecue and Korean barbecue. It’s who we are,” McCuen said. “Combining the two, we felt that different kinds of people around here still had that comfort zone of the American barbecue that comes from George’s that everybody loves — everybody’s comfortable with. Combining the two, we thought would really do something for everyone.”
The American barbecue needs no explanation, but Korean barbecue isn’t as well known in Southern Maryland. The two sisters explained that the meats, similar to cuts used in American barbecue, are marinated and seasoned before they’re cooked on a grill just before ser ving.
“Korean barbecue is grilled meats,” Sylvestre said. “It’s typical meats — I think that’s what the problem is: nobody knows what these Korean meats are. It’s ribeyes and pork collar, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, short ribs.
“What makes it Korean is our seasonings and our marinade, and how we actually cook it. We do hickory wood smoked barbecue for all the meats on the American side. For the Korean side, it’s the seasoning and the marinating.”
So far, aside from the American barbecue offerings, a couple of Korean dishes have emerged as popular with diners.
“Our most popular dish- es here are the bulgogi, which is the marinated ribeye,” Sylvestre said. “The other popular dish would be our stone pot — it’s our hot pot. The stone pot is rice with carrots, bean sprouts, mushrooms — shitake mushrooms, which are very, very healthy — fernbrake, spinach; then you add your meat and sauce to it and mix it. We grill it on the burner so it comes out literally sizzling. You can add shrimp or bulgogi; it’s topped with an egg.”
Everything is made from scratch, with lots of preparation every morning. Even with a little under 15 employees, the workload of preparing food every morning and handling all the details that come along with a new business and full-service restaurant became too much to be open all week.
“We tried to open seven days a week and we got tired. We got real tired,” McCuen said. “It’s not like a chain restaurant. Everything is made fresh every morning — it’s breaking down whole meats and whole vegetables every morning down to these dishes and making them all day long. We’re always here. It’s a small family restaurant. We decided we had to actually take a day off.”
The restaurant is closed Tuesdays but open for lunch and dinner starting at 11 a.m. the rest of the week, with $11 lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“They overshadow me,” Joshua Spooner said, waving toward his two sisters. “The women run the family.”
Spooner, along with his sister Jennifer, built up careers away from the family business, he working in information technology supporting the government and she as a high level government contractor. They both left “pretty cushy jobs” to help expand the family business, Sylvestre said.
The road since opening last year has been marred with a few potholes. The trees out front block their expensive sign when there are leaves on them. They can’t get approval for a sign out on Rosewick Road alerting people to their presence tucked off the main road in the Rosewick Crossing Shopping Center.
But differences in a full-service restaurant compared to the normal take-out counter style of George’s and the addition of a bar have also taken some learning.
“This one was a lot of lessons learned,” said Spooner, looking around the 20-table restaurant he played a big hand in building. “This was so much different than George’s. There were a lot of things we just did not know — especially a full-service restaurant. It’s a totally different world.”
“This is our first bar, as well,” Sylvestre added. The bar has eight seats and serves, alongside the typical American bar fare, a selection of Korean spirits, wine and beer.
Even with relatively low traffic — something they attribute to the location, given the rave reviews they get on their Facebook page — they plan to forge ahead and hope to expand into Waldorf in the not-too-distant future.
“I think this is the model we want to continue going forward,” McCuen said. “Instead of targeting one particular audience, we can have a wider target.”
Spoon’s Korean American BBQ owners Jennifer Sylvestre, Joshua Spooner and Hannah McCuen are siblings that grew up in their mother Helen Spooner’s restaurant in Indian Head — George’s. Spoon’s is a La Plata expansion of the George’s formula, adding Korean flavorings alongside the American favorites.
The restaurant’s Beef Bulgogi (buhrl-go-ghee), a marinated, seasoned and grilled Korean dish of sliced ribeye.