Under Avanti Holdings Group, Kim helps bring new life to the Old Town food scene.
Two days before Chop Shop Taco officially opens—today—Teddy Kim installs lights over the bar.
In the last decade, Edison bulbs—those lights where the inner workings of the wires are on display—were the defining characteristic of a bar. It signified the hipster, pre-Instagram aesthetic where dim lighting was okay because not everything was meant to be photographed. It was a calling card, the cred, the personality writ large.
But that’s not what is hovering above braised brisket sitting inside of a hand-pressed tortilla at Chop Shop. Kim will employ jewelry display lights, a light he says, “that you don’t really see.”
“It’s a focus light,” says Kim, which means the purpose is to put the spotlight on not the light itself, but whatever it is illuminating, be it diamonds, or in this case, tacos.
It’s just like Kim, who, as a principal of Avanti Holdings Group, directs the attention to his individual properties, not himself. The attention is toward designer cocktails at The People’s Drug, Roman-style pizzas at Pendleton Carryout Co. and fresh-pressed cold juices at Grateful Kitchen Co.
Kim, a native of Alexandria and graduate of T.C. Williams High School, now lives in Parker-Gray near the Braddock Road Metro. It’s a high-density area, that’s built like a city with its clear-cut grid system, but doesn’t, as of yet, have the amenities of urban living.
Kim is changing that, purchasing old warehouses, and in the case of Chop Shop, a former auto body garage, one that disassembled stolen cars for parts, and turning these spaces into community hubs. Madison Collective (the name of that particular strip of retail) is already filled out with Grateful Kitchen, tattoo parlor Marlowe Ink (from local artist James Marlowe), fitness studio Zweet Sport and The Waiting Room, a curated art space in the middle of the stores where people can hangout while waiting to get tattoos or tacos.
Chop Shop is a casual spot, with ordering at the counter, but also built for hanging out with communal tables and a full-service bar from The People’s Drug cocktail director Jon Schott. Here, find drinks playing with tequila and mezcal like the spin on a paloma with Schofferhoffer Grapefruit Radler, El Jimador Reposado and lime juice with a Himalayan salt rim.
Tacos, by Ed McIntosh, the same chef behind the kitchen at the food incubator Pendleton Carryout Co., will feature meats (duck, chicken, ribeye) sliced from a vertical rotisserie. There will also be tortas and snacks: rice and cheese croquettes, clam and ham on garlic toast with a chorizo-wine broth and fried rock shrimp over a chayote-jicama salad.
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The space mixes modern design while staying true to the bones for a nouveau grittiness. “It feels natural,” says Kim. “Instead of paying tribute to the car, which would have been pretty predictable, we pay tribute to the welder.” The colors also hint at the outside world: hues of pinks, greens (in a minty-gray grout) and steel. They resurfaced the old concrete floors; used amber welding curtains at the pass between the kitchen and bar; repurposed leg lifts as stands for the high top tables; and an old tin bin (looks a little like a library card catalog) is now used for displaying hot sauces instead of nuts and bolts.
Not all landlords are this involved with the buildout and design choices, but not all landlords live within a few blocks of their business holdings, directly benefiting from tacos and pizza and juice.
With his mom as a waitress when he was a boy, he says he was “always in the food industry as a bystander.” He also says, “I’ve eaten every meal out since I was 13.”
In his current kitchen, he’s never fried an egg. Never toasted bread. But he does turn fruits and vegetables into juice. He says he hasn’t watched TV in 15 years, he doesn’t pay for Wi-Fi in his home. He likes to be out, and the pleasure of real life isn’t available through a screen.
“Restaurants are the one thing Amazon doesn’t deliver,” says Kim. “You can get food for your house, but the experience of bumping into your neighbor, getting to know someone, forming a new relationship …” that needs to happen in real life. Restaurants, he says, make us “get out and breathe air.” // Opening today: Chop Shop Taco: 1008 Madison St., Alexandria
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