Heart and Seoul
Demolition to wipe out popular Austin spot for Korean comfort food
Even as Austin grows, its Korean hotspots are a bit of a rarity. One name always stood out in word-of-mouth recommendations (and those are the most important kind): Seoulju Korean Kitchen and Bar.
On December 8, the popular comfort food restaurant and self-proclaimed dive bar on North Lamar Boulevard announced that it had entered its last month of service. Its final day will be December 31, and there's going to be a big New Year's Eve celebration. "Let’s make memories and raise a glass to new beginnings and cherished endings!" the event post says.
Seoulju has been in business since 2015, and is well-known for its fried chicken wings, a Korean specialty. It was originally Sang Mi's project, John Lee's mother, but he and his wife joined her in 2018 and revamped the menu. Lee's special interest was Korean drinking culture, which means soju shows up all over the bar menu, from house-infused drinks to a wide selection of outside brands.
In the more recent, long Instagram announcement, accompanied by a family picture, the owners laid bare the final hurdle the business faced and some final words of gratitude.
The question on everyone's mind: Did the impossible task of maintaining a physical space in Austin as things get bought out strike again? Absolutely. Owners John and Tram Lee attribute it to gentrification, and shared that the shopping center that currently houses Seoulju is set to be demolished to accommodate a future mixed-use property.
They're referring to Northwend Shopping Center, a large U-shaped group of storefronts that also contains Pho Dinh Vietnamese Cuisine and Marisco Grill, plus non-food industry business like salons, cleaners, and clinics. Surrounded by concrete, a handful of fast food eateries including Whataburger and McDonald's, and residential neighborhoods, this partially vacant lot is not exactly an area for high foot traffic. The center appears to have sold for $13.99 million.
It is near, but not connected to another shopping center that attracts high volumes of customer traffic for its majority-Asian businesses including Ramen Tatsu-ya, CoCo's Cafe, House of Three Gorges, and Julie's Noodles. Although these business receive high praise in their own right, the dense population of similar spots probably doesn't hurt in terms of collective staying power.
"Despite our best efforts, we were unable to come to an agreement that would allow us to continue serving you in this location," the post says. "The decision to close was not easy, and it's disheartening to see the place we've cherished being transformed in a way that doesn't align with our vision."
The emotional post goes on to thank the community for its support and memories. It does not mention plans to reopen elsewhere.
"Thank you for being the heartbeat of Seoulju," it concludes. "We will always cherish the moments we've shared and the support you've given us. Cheers to the memories, the friendships, and the love that made Seoulju truly special."