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Ur/Bun offers break from the familiar
What’s a steamed bun?
That seemed to be the question that was frequently arising at Daniel Chae’s Ur/Bun restaurant, 431 NW 23rd St.
“They were working,” Chae said. “But a lot of people were coming in and were just really confused.”
The ingredients were appealing, with items such as Buffalo-style chicken, Philadelphia-style cheesesteak, pork belly, and even s’mores.
Chae, who also operates the restaurant bearing his name on 23rd Street, as well as one All About Cha, wanted to push the city’s culinary scene, he said. The Asian-street-food favorite steamed buns seemed like a break in the familiar.
But the protein-carrying mechanism – the steamed buns – were a bit of a challenge, he said. The buns are a soft, bread-like texture, which are folded in half to carry the protein.
In January, Chae expanded the menu to add rice bowls. With twice the amount of protein as a bun, the option appeals to people who are gluten-conscious or vegan. It also offers a more recognizable backdrop to the proteins.
Chae said he cut the prices on the buns, though the bowls are priced at less than $9.
“At some point, you pivot a little to make it a little accessible,” he said. “People can only eat so many buns.”
The buns started as an appetizer on the Chae menu. While at Ur/Bun on Tuesday, a customer introduced himself to Chae and praised the buns. He said he had the buns as an appetizer during a recent dinner at Chae, and the waiter told him to try Ur/Bun.
Chae said he was afraid the restaurants might cannibalize each other, but it’s been the opposite. Like the customer’s trip was prompted by the sit-down restaurant’s menu, Chae said he’s seen that happen frequently.
Ur/Bun opened last year in a strip of locally owned but new concepts. The building is owned by the Pivot Project development group. Pivot Project partner Jonathan Dodson said the group is betting on the operators finding a way to be successful.
“The fact that they’re local, thoughtful, and care about the community will manifest itself with the quality menu items they have,” Dodson said.
HunnyBunny Biscuit Co. will open this month, bringing the downstairs of the Tower Theatre’s retail strip to being fully occupied. HunnyBunny is a concept from John Ross, general manager of Packard’s New American Kitchen.
Most of the eateries and bars have a small amount of space. Ur/Bun has 900 square feet. Its neighbor, Bunker Club, has less than 2,000 square feet. Bunker owners Ian and Hailey McDermid let customers bring in food from the neighbors since it doesn’t have a full kitchen.
Dodson said it’s been interesting to watch the operators create a sense of community, and Chae has been an integral part of that.
“It’s one of only a few places I’ve been in where all our neighbors are in a group chat,” Chae said. “All of us are really rooting for this building to succeed.”
The Tower Theatre has even done ticket-buying specials with Ur/Bun. As people are standing in line to get tickets, they’ll either pop in or come back later to get food.
Chae said the new rice option will hopefully bring back people who haven’t been to the restaurant since it opened last year. The rice bowls expand the menu to 10 items, but there’s more to come, he said. He’s developing hand-held sushi rolls and a matcha tea cookie.
“We’re doing good, but I know we can do better,” he said.