Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood is home to many young families, a demographic fact that can make sustaining a hip restaurant challenging. Chef Esther Choi opened her Brooklyn offshoot of Mokbar this summer and immediately found that it was tough to attract customers during off-peak hours. (To make matters worse, her third restaurant, Ms. Yoo, opened in Manhattan shortly after.) To attempt to fit in to Park Slope, she’s now introduced a Family Happy Hour where kids eat free on Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Recently, she appeared in an episode of Food Republic Today to talk about Family Happy Hour and overcoming other obstacles in the restaurant industry. Here’s a portion of that conversation. For the complete interview with the engaging Korean-American chef, check out this episode of the podcast.
How did you adapt to the neighborhood in Park Slope?
We’re still in the midst of adapting, I would say. It was incredibly challenging. This summer was so brutal for me in terms of opening up Ms. Yoo at the same time as Mokbar Brooklyn. It was so hard in the summer. It’s really just dead in that area.
Where you are in Brooklyn is near the Barclays Center, which is where the Nets play. They don’t play in the summer. There are a lot concerts there, but not as much. A lot of restaurateurs are looking to that neighborhood and around Flatbush Avenue, one of main thoroughfares in Brooklyn for generations now. It’s getting revived, there’s a Shake Shack there. There’s all kinds of things going in.
That’s what attracted me, too.
Right. You fell for it. [laughs]
I did fall for it! It’s like, yeah a lot of chefs looked into that area, which means didn’t go and jump on anything. It was weird. I looked at obviously a lot of neighborhoods; I looked at a ton of spaces. For me, for some reason I had a weird connection with the area and the landlord, whom I love very much. He’s a great guy. I was very intrigued. The idea of having something completely different from Chelsea Market was kind of mesmerizing to me. I was like, I’m going to go into this neighborhood and become a neighborhood gem, not be this crazy tourist trap, which is what a lot of being in Chelsea Market is. People think that’s what you are and I’m like, no, I actually work incredibly hard to keep this place running and produce really good food out of a tiny, tiny space.
I opened up Brooklyn and kind of regretted it for a little bit. [laughs] Right now, I’ve come to peace with it because it is what it is.
Brooklyn has had this crazy boom of young parents with kids who moved out of Manhattan to take advantage of what was once cheap property — cheaper than Manhattan — now it’s kind of risen to that level. Still, there are so many kids around and you’ve adapted to that by introducing a family-friendly environment.
Yeah, that’s what we’re striving for because I feel like we’ll always be busy during the peak dinner hours, but that’s not enough to sustain a business. I have to be creative and figure out ways to bring in the people who are going to eat earlier.
So what did you do?
There’s no happy hour scene in that area. None of that exists. So, happy hour in that area was [for] families. Kids get out of school, these families are all looking to have dinner early, rather than later. So, we created this thing called Family Happy Hour where kids eat for free between 5 p.m and 7 p.m. This promotion that we’re running is really to push our new children’s menu that we came up with. We have like different kind of graphics with playful ramen graphics that kids can color on. We’re trying all this stuff, like origami, that’ll bring these families in. So, we’ll see how that works out.