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Soban plans to reopen following renovations with new menu options

With new affiliation to bb.q Chicken, Soban could reopen as early as this weekend

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Thayer Street eatery, which closed temporarily in July, is planning to reopen with an updated menu this weekend that includes items from South Korean franchise bb.q Chicken.

While multiple businesses on Thayer Street closed their doors for good because of pandemic financial troubles, Soban Korean Eatery plans to reopen this weekend with a new menu and renovated space.

Soban’s menu will feature items from bb.q Chicken, a South Korean restaurant franchise with locations around the world, as well as items from its old menu, Soban’s owner Wooma Cho told The Herald. The restaurant’s renovation expanded dining space and added new equipment necessary to make the bb.q Chicken items.

After nearly four months of renovations, the space will look a little different: To enlarge its dining space, the kitchen is now smaller. When the restaurant reopens, instead of ordering at a counter connected to the kitchen, customers will order and pay at a counter surrounded by hanging sheets of plexiglass, with refrigerators underneath. 

Soban had initially closed on July 11 so that it could respond and adapt its space and menu to the demands of pandemic business. 

Cho said that after the University closed campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19, business was down by about 60 percent. Students account for about 80 percent of Soban’s business, Cho said.

The pandemic caused restaurants to shift to takeout and delivery, which presented a challenge for Soban. 

“With Korean food, you want to eat it here,” in the restaurant, she said. “It’s better.” Cho added that Soban’s soups are best served hot, which she says is difficult with delivery, and that packaging can change the taste of the food.

“Customers love eating here,” Cho said. “But when coronavirus happened, everyone ran away.”

So, Cho franchised with Genesis BBQ, the parent company of bb.q Chicken, because the food is better suited to takeout and delivery. 

Genesis BBQ had approached her in the past about franchising, but Cho had always turned them down. 

“Coronavirus broke my menu,” Cho said. “But with fried chicken, delivery is not a problem.”

The bb.q Chicken menu includes a number of different styles from fried chicken, grilled chicken and chicken wings, all offered in various flavors. 

bb.q Chicken, which stands for “best of the best quality,” first came to the U.S. in 2014, and now has 48 locations in 15 states, according to the company’s spokesperson Claire Song. The chain now boasts over 2,000 franchises worldwide, the majority of which are in Korea.

“We are looking to expand new locations and we want to be your everyday meal option,” Song wrote in an email to The Herald.

The renovations took about three and a half months to complete, but assuming nothing goes wrong with inspections, the restaurant is set to open this weekend. 

John Luipold, vice president of real estate and strategic initiatives for the University, told The Herald that the renovations took as long as they did because of the changes in the kitchen. 

“All that work has to be done by code and has to be properly permitted,” Luipold said. Many construction projects have slowed down in Providence during the pandemic, Luipold added, because it’s more difficult to get permits from the city. 

The University owns the building that Soban is in at 272 Thayer St., and approves the contractors that tenants use for renovating the space. 

Cho is hoping that Soban’s key customer base — students — will return once its doors reopen.

Ambika Miglani ’21 has fond memories of eating and studying in Soban, and she plans to return once the restaurant opens again, saying it always “felt very homey.”

“I’m glad that they found something to keep them going, even if it is in a different capacity,” Miglani said. 

Zara Lei Norman ’22 went to Soban about once a week before the pandemic began. When she first saw that they were adding bb.q Chicken options to their menu, she was distressed because she is a vegetarian. She was relieved to find out that the restaurant was keeping items from its old menu.

“It’s a great idea to have more options,” Norman said. “There’s something for everybody in there.”

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  1. Glad to see Soban coming back. It was a little Mom and Pop operation and the food was good. They had just expanded, likely spending a lot of money, and I felt bad that just after doing this, the pandemic hit.

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