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Monday, Dec 4, 2023

Korean Flavors Meet Southern Cooking

It was during a trip to Seoul, Korea, in the early 2010s that Tommy Nguyen and his wife Grace Chi became inspired to introduce a Korean fried chicken food concept to San Diego.
But in order to set themselves apart from the local competition, especially once settling on a 2,000 square foot space in the Asian food enclave of Kearny Mesa, the two knew they had to get innovative with their offerings.

Along with business partner Wilson To, Nguyen and Chi decided to fuse Korean fried chicken with the commonly embraced comfort of Southern food culture, an approach never before taken in San Diego’s gastronomic scene, said Nguyen. Lastly, inspired by the craft beer industry of San Diego, the final concept iteration included adding a hefty selection of brew on tap to pair with the tasty food.

In 2017, 
Cross Street Chicken and Beer, a fusion between Korean flavors and classic Southern cooking, was birthed. It offers 20 beers on tap, according to Nguyen, and over 10 chicken flavors and options, including the uber-popular Hot Chick Sandwich and the top-selling Seoul Spicy wings.
Today, the company, with a second, 300 square foot location in Carlsbad’s Windmill Food Hall that opened late 2019, garners over $2 million in revenue and has roughly 45 employees and counting. Thanks to a planned expansion next year, the company, self-funded by the husband-and-wife duo, is projected to double its revenue by 2022, according to Nguyen.

Fried Chicken Lover
“I’m a huge fried chicken lover so after our trip to Seoul we wanted to bring some concepts we loved from there back to SD,” said Nguyen, 32, who received his degree in management information systems from San Diego State University. 
“My wife’s family owns 10-11 restaurants on Convoy Street (in Kearny Mesa) and her mom was one of the first to own a food place on the strip, Friend’s House, maybe 15 years ago. So, we knew we wanted to follow in her family’s footsteps. My wife and Wilson perfected all the recipes and I handle the finances and the marketing part of the business. We did a grand opening in December of 2017 and the support from the community was just insane. Now we are looking at expanding nationwide.”
Other than experiencing a 40% drop in sales at the beginning of COVID-19, Cross Street Chicken and Beer has been on a nearly-constant upward climb, says Nguyen. By the end of last summer, the company had reached pre-pandemic sales numbers, thanks in large part to the addition of curbside pick-up and third-party delivery services. These days, revenue is up almost 15% from 2019, said Nguyen, even with the addition of national Korean fried chicken food chain Bonchon Chicken to Kearny Mesa in 2018.
For To, the success of Cross Street Chicken and Beer is a result of the culture that Nguyen and the team have built.

“We’re so proud of what we’ve built together as a team, creating a safe and warm environment for both our team to work and guests to enjoy a great glass of beer and, of course, some fried chicken,’ he said. “For us, it all begins with ingredients, starting by marinating overnight our fresh never frozen chicken… Our technique to double fry our chicken to create the perfect crispy batter pays homage to traditional Korean fried chicken. Our inspiration for flavors incorporates the east and west cultures to build our multiple flavor offerings.”

New Locations
Moving forward, Nguyen hopes to expand the Cross Street Chicken and Beer footprint and, hopefully, down the line, enter new markets.  
For now, a new location at the Del Mar Highlands Town Center, is scheduled to open early 2022, said Nguyen, followed by a fourth eatery in downtown’s Horton Plaza. The latter is set to launch toward the end of next year, he said.

A fifth Cross Street Chicken and Beer, to be situated in Petco Park, is currently in discussions. 


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