Bum-su Kim used to bring his daughters to what was then the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Lincoln Street in Hoquiam on his way to or from their home near Humptulips, with no idea back then that he would ever get into the restaurant business.
Now he’s in that location himself, operating the recently opened Speed Bowls restaurant.
After KFC closed, Sasquatch Pizza took its place, but that eventually closed as well.
While many lamented the closing of a restaurant, Kim, who owns Maxi Mini Mart in Cosmopolis and who operated the Maxi Burger next door to the Cosi convenience store for about 10 years, saw an opportunity. When his cousin, who owned the building, opened the door and let him into the kitchen, he knew he was home. And he knew what he wanted to cook.
“My favorite food when I eat out is pho,” he said, referring to the Vietnamese soup consisting of rice noodles, broth, meat and herbs.
“When my wife went shopping in a bigger city, I used to tell her bring me pho to go,” he added.
After a decade in the smaller kitchen at Maxi Burger, he was wowed standing in his new kitchen for the first time.
“Awesome. That’s my dream kitchen. The range hood is over 20 feet, the floor drains are perfect for easy clean up.”
He told his cousin right away “I’ll take it.”
Kim said he still owns the Maxi Mini Mart and gas station, but sold Maxi Burger, now called Maxi Teriyaki and Sushi, and started working on his pho recipe for Speed Bowls.
“The key is the broth,” he said, adding he experimented with his recipe for about six months using his family as taste testers. Having no experience cooking pho before, he was anxious when Speed Bowls opened in September to see how paying customers would like it.
He said he still comes out of the kitchen often to check how people like his pho. His kitchen struggled to keep up with the demand the first few weeks after they opened as word of the new restaurant spread by word of mouth and on social media. They had more customers than they could serve despite doing no advertising or interviews, he said.
“We ran out of food and had to close early every night,” Kim remembered.
They’ve since simplified the menu, offering just three kinds of pho — beef, chicken and seafood along with teriyaki, burgers and fried rice, he said.
Kim grew up in Seoul, South Korea, with his parents and five older sisters. In 1980, one of his sisters moved to the U.S. after marrying an American soldier. His parents followed her overseas and in 1987 after they got green cards, Kim, a university student at the time, moved to Tacoma. That same year, his father passed away and he’s had to work to support his family ever since, he said.
Kim worked as a manager at the Fairway Grocery in Hoquiam starting in 1999 when a family member bought the business. After three years there, he noticed that Prairie Mart on Highway 101 North near Humptulips was on the market and decided to go into business for himself.
He liked the sense of community he found and decided this is where he would stay and raise his family. Kim remembers one time at Prairie Mart when a kid didn’t have enough to buy a candy bar, so the customer behind him chipped in, only to come up a little short himself. Kim said they laughed about it, and he told the customer to pay him back later.
While he doesn’t miss the big city he grew up in too much, he said he still loves Korean food. His wife makes kimchi at home, and he loves Korean food, but he thinks the local palate isn’t ready for an authentic Korean restaurant quite yet, he said.
“Korean food has too much seasoning — it’s too hot and spicy,” he said
Kim said he thinks pho is easier for Americans to eat.
“The taste is smooth, not too aggressive. … I keep the seasoning very basic, it’s comfortable,” he said.
Kim said he uses ribeye steak for his beef broth, and that he cooks it slowly for more than 12 hours with the bones, onions and herbs to develop the flavor.
“Ribeye is not cheap, but it’s OK because I love it. People who try it love it too,” he said.
Before opening Speed Bowls, he noticed the popularity of Vietnamese noodle restaurants in Seattle, Tacoma and Olympia and thought he could make it work in Hoquiam, he said.
After 10 years at Maxi Burger, he knows Americans like burgers. He also knows teriyaki is popular as far as Asian food locally, but he said he thinks pho is a fresh new option that people will also enjoy.
About the restaurant name, Kim said he doesn’t serve fast food. His staff can only cook three orders at a time, so if there are more than three customers, you’ll have to wait a little like at any sit-down restaurant. Kim said he hopes his food is worth the wait.
If the restaurant succeeds, he won’t ever sell it, Kim said.
“This is my last town. I love pho. I want to share my food with the people. I’m happy here,” he said.