The silhouette of a chicken adorns the sign of Flagstaff’s newest Korean restaurant. Below it, a black and white awning and a set of tidily-kept flower boxes welcome patrons as they walk through the doors. Located in a recognizable white building just south of Route 66 in the Southside neighborhood, Kokiyo has been the recipient of nearly unanimous praise since it opened in October.
“[We’re] pretty proud that we haven't been open for that long and we are already getting such great feedback,” Jin Lee, co-owner of Kokiyo alongside business partner Michelle Lee, says. “We are pretty happy and we feel pretty blessed.”
Reviews on Google, Yelp and Facebook praise Kokiyo's authentic Korean menu, something the co-owners and Jin’s daughter Jewon Lee—who works as the restaurant’s manager—pride themselves on.
“We didn’t want to do the entire same menu as other Korean restaurants,” Jewon says. “We figured that if we were going to do it the Korean way, it’s going to be our form of comfort food. So obviously, because of the history and all that, we eat a lot of Japanese fusion food in Korea and a lot of people don’t expect that from us, but we do a lot. Like omurice and donkatzu, it’s something I grew up eating in my cafeteria in school. We were all agreeing on the fact that we should include that kind of food.”
Kokiyo is Jin’s second restaurant, she says, but it’s less focused on Japanese food than her previous one. Jewon adds that the menu includes some items that typically sell the best at Korean restaurants, including beef and pork bulgogi, marinated Korean BBQ dishes.
Some menu items can be served dup-bap (on rice) during lunch or ban-sang (with sides), with chi-mec (fried chicken) also available with the BBQ dishes.
The crowd of Kokiyo customers has been very diverse so far, spanning from international students at Northern Arizona University to a wide range of Flagstaff residents as well as tourists.
“We just get everybody in here,” Jewon says. “We are surprised, or maybe I am more surprised, because it’s something that we are cooking, and it seems surreal that people are like, ‘Oh my god, this is really good.’”
Kokiyo was several years in the making before it found a home in Flagstaff. Jin and Michelle had long been on the search for the perfect location in which to open a restaurant. Jin lived in Phoenix for almost 20 years before making the move to Flagstaff, but it was upon arriving in northern Arizona that they decided on the San Francisco Street location.
“Me and [Michelle], we both kind of were sick and tired of the hot weather,” Jin says. “We love this weather, and it’s not too far from Phoenix, so we decided to move up here.”
It was tough to find a place in Phoenix, Jewon says, something that lead the family to take a chance and visit Flagstaff as a potential location.
“We were like, ‘We will literally try anything at this point,’” she says. “We drove up here, just because maybe this place might work out and maybe it won't.”
Flagstaff won Jin over immediately, she says. She was convinced the moment they arrived.
“We three together came inside and then my first words were, ‘We have to open the restaurant here,’” she says.
Previously home to Carmel’s, then briefly Gaby’s restaurant, the small brick building has seen many businesses come and go over the last few years but so far it’s proving to be perfect for the Lees. Between foot traffic and visitors to town, plus being small enough to manage as a new business, Kokiyo is quickly becoming a local favorite and its owners couldn’t be happier.
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