Get your bul­gogi at Spoon’s in La Plata

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

The restau­rant’s Beef Bul­gogi (buhrl-go-ghee), a mar­i­nated, sea­soned and grilled Korean dish of sliced rib­eye.

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