White and bright, with counter service and a concise menu, Seoul Street appears to be a fast food restaurant. So what’s with the sign on the counter that says, “Chicken is made fresh every time so it will take a minimum of 20 minutes to prepare. But they are well worth the wait!!!”?

Plenty of people walk into sit-down restaurants on Main Street and expect a plate of food to arrive in less than twenty minutes. Welcome to a hot trend that has every earmark of fast food except its fastness.

The signature menu item here is Korean fried chicken. Koreans know the drill, and so do food lovers who have been to New York and Los Angeles where, natch, the trend arrived a few years ago. You phone in your carefully timed order, then swoop in (perhaps keeping your car running) to rush it home before the candy-apple-like glaze loses its crackle. “We spend a lot of time explaining to [new customers] why it takes twenty minutes,” says head chef and partner Jason Choi. “The first time they wait twenty minutes, the second time they know to phone in their orders.” Reggie Kim, another partner, adds that twenty minutes is nothing: “On the East or West Coast, sometimes they tell you to call back in an hour.”

Choi explains how he makes the crackly crust. “We paint the glaze on with a paint brush” after double deep-frying it. And he emphasizes that this is real deep-frying, which takes longer than KFC-style pressure cooker frying, but is in his opinion a superior technique.

For those innocents who wander in and don’t have twenty minutes to wait, the rest of the menu can be accessed a little more quickly, but Seoul Street’s owners aren’t promising immediate gratification. They believe every order should be made fresh, and don’t want their bibimbop, mandoo (dumplings), and kimbop (seaweed-wrapped rolls, Korean style) sitting on a shelf or under a heat lamp either.

Seoul Street’s three working partners (the third is Jonathan Baek), all in their thirties, know each other from Cornerstone Church, which meets nearby on Broadway. There are also three silent partners, all friends and relatives. The working partners are all hard working: Baek and Kim both hold down other full-time jobs, Baek teaching middle school and Kim in finance. Chef Jason Choi quit his job in information security last March to spend his time behind the fryer.

None of them has had any professional food experience, but Choi, says Baek, “is the best Korean cook in town right now. We always go to his place to eat.” And Choi, despite his lack of professional training, has plenty of experience cooking for crowds: “He’s the go-to guy for church events, but he never got paid before,” says Kim.

Seoul Street, 1771 Plymouth (Upland Green), 719-0085. Sun.-Wed. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight.


Up the road from Seoul Street, at Plymouth Green Crossings, is a speedier, less exotic option: a new Subway. Manager Penny Koths says she thinks there are now seven Subways in Ann Arbor. The corporate website isn’t much help–it lists three. This summer, the Observer’s City Guide researchers found eight (nine if they’d counted one in the Citgo station at State and I-94, which they didn’t).

Perhaps Subway can be forgiven for not being able to keep its website up to date. Koths says, “Subway recently outdid McDonald’s. Not more sales, but more stores. We passed them about a month ago.”

Subway is definitely fast food–their counter staff can assemble a sub in minutes–but it’s also got a fitness angle. Spokesperson Jared Fogle began touting Subway’s low-calorie options more than a decade ago, when McDonald’s was still supersizing its fries. And Koths says it works in Ann Arbor: “Oh definitely the healthy option, that’s what they come to Subway for. Turkey breast is the most popular. We sell more turkey here by far than anything else. Also baked chips, veggie patties, and chicken strips. Anything low fat.” And Ann Arborites are eating their vegetables, in the form of “excessive amounts of mild yellow peppers.”

This Subway is owned by Brad Turowski, who also owns the one on the other side of Seoul Street in the Courtyard Shops and seven more in the Detroit suburbs.

The trim, energetic Koths looks like a good advertisement for the Subway healthy eating plan. Asked if she did it on the Jared diet, she zings back, “That’s because I worked seventy-eight hours last week. I don’t sit.”

Subway, 3395 Plymouth Rd. (Plymouth Green Crossings), 761-4388. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-11 pm., Sun. 9 a.m.-11 p.m. www.subway.com