“It’s me on a plate,” said John Gleason, owner and head chef at Bap and Chicken.
Located at 1328 Grand Ave. in St. Paul’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, Bap and Chicken infuses the hottest Korean food trends — a rice bowl called bibimbap and Korean fried chicken — with some American, and particularly Midwestern, flairs.
In addition to the Asian style foods, customers can order an appetizer called Uff-da, which is Spam wrapped in Korean fried bacon with fried pickles, cheese curds and rice tots with ranch dressing.
Gleason was born in South Korea and adopted by a South Minneapolis couple. He remembers watching a lot of Julia Child food shows on TV while growing up and feeling inspired.
“I was cooking ever since I was a young kid, when I had to stand on a chair to reach the burners,” he said.
So began a dream to open up his own restaurant.
To accomplish that, he studied marketing and management at the University of St. Thomas, where he graduated in 2002. During college his curiosity about different kinds of foods grew, and he tried Korean cuisine for the first time in his life.
To learn the ins and outs of a restaurant business, he performed a variety of jobs at various Twin Cities restaurants, including Izzy’s Ice Cream Shop, Macaroni Grill and Giordano’s Pizza.
He also began to travel and try new and unique restaurants. He said he ate a lot of great Korean food, which was an inspiration for his new business.
“I’m not sure if it was an ‘aha’ moment,” Gleason said. “Or just, hey, what is the Twin Cities missing as far as the style of food, the type of restaurants? And what can I create that will fill that need?”
Bap and Chicken opened in late July 2019. It’s casual dining with counter service. Gleason said it’s located in the perfect spot.
“The food doesn’t take a long time to make, so people that are walking by can pop in for a quick bite,” he said. “There’s a lot of businesses around (and employees) can swing by for lunch, early dinner. Then the neighborhood really helps fill out the rest of the business.”
Patrons can’t miss a display of the “finger heart” on the east wall. The love gesture was made famous by a Korean pop star who used her index finger and thumb to display the shape of a heart to her fans in her audience.
“When I saw it, I knew that it was fitting for the restaurant, just because of the passion that I put into the food, and the level of service that I want and hospitality (that I want) for the guests,” Gleason said. “I want all the guests that come in to feel loved and to feel warm and to enjoy themselves, just like they would if we were their friends and having them over for dinner.”
Gleason also created an adoptee wall at the restaurant, featuring photos of customers who were adopted.
Chad Caruthers, a Bap and Chicken customer and adoptee, said he felt so welcomed by Gleason that he agreed to have his photo displayed on the wall.
“I think it’s good if it makes somebody else decide that they want to be on that wall,” Caruthers said. “And almost come out a little bit, if you will, just shout it out a little bit more than they ever have, or maybe feel more comfortable doing that.”