Oct 22, 2019, 2:06pm CDT
Umami Fries, Inc. The Wasabi Fries — decked out with an egg, shiitake mushrooms, seared tofu, chicken and a wasabi sauce — are just one example of the way Umami Fries' menu infuses American comfort food with Asian flavors. The owners of Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Umami Fries have big plans to franchise their Asian-American quick-service restaurant concept. First stop: Dinkytown. Umami Fries is set to take over the 405 14th Ave. SE space currently occupied by Num-Mi Vietnamese Kitchen & Grill, which is scheduled to close by Nov. 1. The 1,700-square-foot storefront will go dark for roughly two months before Umami Fries begins serving its kimchi-topped burgers and wasabi-spiked fries in early January, said Samon Xiong, who launched the restaurant with his brother, Saya. Umami Fries opened in 2018 inside Tulsa’s first food hall, Mother Road Market, a former grocery building just off historic Route 66 now home to 20-plus food vendors and retailers. At the core of the Umami Fries menu are burgers, fries and tacos infused with Korean, Japanese, Thai and Chinese flavors. The Tulsa location also serves over a dozen varieties of bubble tea. “It’s gained some pretty good notoriety,” Xiong said. “We’ve had tons of investors come through, but we wanted to stay independent.” Xiong said the Dinkytown location will be owned and operated by a former Umami Fries sous chef, Yeng Thao, who relocated to the Twin Cities. He has plans to add multiple franchise locations over the next five years. Born in Boston, Xiong and his brother grew up in a restaurant family. Their parents opened Oriental Express, their first restaurant, in Providence, Rhode Island in 1979, opened a second when they relocated to Portland, Oregon, nearly two decades later and then launched a five-location Thai Garden chain, based in Tulsa, which they've since sold. Samon and Saya Xiong opened their first restaurant, a Korean grill, in Tulsa in 2012. They introduced a fusion menu there before developing the Umami Fries concept. Samon Xiong said he is “not a kitchen guy at all.” His background is in marketing and advertising, both in the software and consumer sporting goods industries, and he’s putting that experience to work developing a franchise plan. “I basically took this understanding of building an infrastructure and applied it to Umami Fries,” he said. His brother Saya is Umami Fries’ executive chef. Umami Fries' lease on the Dinkytown space was negotiated by Marshall Nguyen of real estate company Caspian Group.