When Monsoon Chinese Bistro & Sushi closed its doors on Feb. 13, it came as a surprise to many Flagstaff locals. But soon word came around that Monsoon wasn’t closing. Rather, it was rebranding itself as an American breakfast, lunch and dinner gastropub, replacing its rolls and sushi with eggs, sandwiches and hearty dishes similar to that of a café or diner. Three weeks of renovations and owners Ki Won Choi and his cousin Kenneth Choi saw their new restaurant for which they felt more passion come to fruition. The Market Bar & Kitchen was open.
But changing from a Chinese bistro to an American restaurant isn’t easy, says Won.
“Our major change was our kitchen. We had to convert a Chinese/Japanese kitchen to an American food kitchen,” says Won. “We had to gut the kitchen and put in new equipment. That was the hardest part.”
Now with a kitchen staff and head chef that specializes in American cuisine, The Market is serving up breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, everything from bagels to burgers and everything in between, with intentions to change up the menu every two months.
The Eggs Benedict features two poached eggs covered with a creamy buttery hollandaise atop an English muffin topped with ham or smoked trout and served with a side of ribbon-style hash browns or red potatoes. And the Black Bean & Avocado Vegetarian “Burger” is served with chipotle ranch, pepper jack cheese, avocado and fresh toppings on a black bean meatless patty. But one customer favorite, according to Won, has been The Market’s selection of specialty mac & cheeses, ranging from lobster to shrimp to chorizo.
Won says the new menu has brought new customers to his restaurant.
“I’m excited to see new people come in and tell me, ‘you know I use to never come in here, but now I’ve come here four or five times,’” he says. “When I hear stuff like that I feel like we’re going towards a better direction.”
Asian and American food couldn’t be more opposite. Where Asian dishes are more sauce-heavy, savory, spicy and sweet, American food is more hearty, filling and light on sauces and spices. So why make the change?
“Even though I’m Korean, I was never too passionate about Asian food,” says Won. And besides that, he says “it’s hard to sell Chinese food seven days a week. I think doing American food attracts more audience than Chinese and Japanese food. I noticed a different variety of clientele that are coming in and checking us out.”
He credits Karma Sushi Bar Grill as one of the restaurants downtown that do Asian food right. Rather than see himself as competition, he wanted to create a new niche in downtown, the gastropub.
Adding to that, Won, who has lived and worked in Flagstaff since age 13, says the new menu and feel of The Market reminds him of when he was kid, busing in his uncle’s restaurant and working in his aunt’s minimart. There’s something about that friendly atmosphere of folks wanting conversation and coffee in the morning that appeals to Won. His favorite thing, he says, is the smell.
“My heart, my passion has always been breakfast and lunch. I’m getting older now, and I got a family. I love talking to customers in the morning. I love the smell of the restaurant in the morning,” says Won. “I love the breakfast aspect. It’s kind of like going back to my roots. It’s been our passion project for a long, long time.”
Of course, Monsoon had a bit of a reputation for being a late-night hangout for NAU students looking to spend the weekend on the dance floor. While the restaurant has seen a new menu and a new interior design, Won says that late-night vibe hasn’t changed. Thursday through Saturday, the restaurant will remain open late at night for dance parties and drink specials. While many locals voiced concerns with Monsoon’s reputation as a college club, Won says that didn’t affect his decision to rebrand the restaurant. In fact, he loved that the restaurant appealed to that group. And while some were unhappy with the decision to change the restaurant from Chinese to American, Won feels it was the best decision for his well-being.
“At the end of the day, if you’re out to just make money, I don’t necessarily think that you’re going to be a happy person. I truly believe that you got to do something that you love and are passionate about, and the money will follow.”
Won says the restaurant is still going through some growing pains, but with a goal to be ready for the summer tourists, he feels it’s going in a better direction, a direction he is passionate for and proud of.
“If you’re going to do anything in life, you got to be passionate about what you do,” he says. “I’m excited about our food. I’m proud of it. That’s the main thing. You’ve got to be proud of what you’re doing in life, that way you can go to sleep at night knowing that at least you’re trying to do the right thing.”
The Market Bar & Kitchen, 6 E. Aspen Ave. Ste 100, is open Sunday through Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. For more information and a full menu, visit www.themarketflagstaff.com.