The allure of brunch knows no bounds, and popular SF brunch spots Sweet Maple and Kitchen Story — with their deep-fried French toast and Millionaire's Bacon — are spinning off more new locations in the coming year.
Owner Hoyul Steven Choi was in expansion mode already, pre-pandemic, having found success with U: Dessert Story next to Kitchen Story in the Castro. In December 2019 he announced the opening of a new Kitchen Story in Oakland's Rockridge with more Korean stuff on the menu, and that has since opened. And Choi tells the Chronicle that his restaurants did just fine doing takeout during last year's lockdowns, and he's now ready to invest even more in the Bay Area and beyond.
Choi is reportedly planning new Sweet Maple locations in Palo Alto, Walnut Creek, Cupertino and Santa Monica, as well as a combined Kitchen Story/U:Dessert Story in Mountain View, and a new noodle-focused concept in SF's Parkside neighborhood sometime next year.
"I think this is a good time for a quantum leap," Choi confidently tells the Chronicle.
He says he's also planning more locations in Southern California and Texas, and ultimately he wants an empire of "at least" 50 restaurants nationwide.
Choi first got a taste for Americans' passion for breakfast and brunch food running Taylor Street Coffee Shop in Union Square, which was his first business after emigrating here from South Korea in 2002. Sweet Maple came along in Lower Pac Heights/Japantown in 2010, followed soon after by the similarly brunch-centric Kitchen Story.
Sweet Maple has since expanded beyond the usual brunch fare to feature Instagram-worthy star dishes like the Pimped Shin Cupbop — an egg dish served with a "hash" of fried rice, Millionaire's Bacon (seasoned bacon coated in maple syrup), and popular South Korean cup noodles Shin Ramyun. Also, you can now get a flight of four differently seasoned versions of Millionaire's Bacon.
Kitchen Story offers dinner, with a Thai-focused menu that originated with former chef Kasem "Pop" Saengsawang, who went on to open Farmhouse Kitchen in the Mission District — and who himself now has a mini-empire of four restaurants. And Choi and Saengsawang opened another, similar restaurant in the Marina in the last decade, Blackwood, that also offers that Millionaire's Bacon for brunch and Thai stuff at night.
The first Sweet Maple to offer dinner will be the Palo Alto location, opening on December 22 at 150 University Ave. That menu will feature pad thai, but will also offer Korean-focused dishes like stonepots — not unlike the Oakland Kitchen Story menu.
Another Sweet Maple will open in February in Cupertino, and the remaining locations will open throughout the next year — with the Parkside Kitchen Story arriving late next year.
Choi's local empire is already significant, with Sweet Maple at SFO, the Rockridge Kitchen Story, the similarly Korean-focused Berkeley Social Club, Surisan (also Korean) near Fisherman's Wharf, another U:Dessert Story on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, and Blackwood. That's nine current restaurants, which will be 15 by the end of next year including the Santa Monica Sweet Maple.
Top Image: Sweet Maple/Facebook