Kaiju Bowl and Bao announced itself quietly, with a small sign in a Davie Street window and a so-far tweetless Twitter account.
The demand for downtown noodle shops filled the curiosity gap with online speculation of what it might be. Is it ramen? Is it steamed buns? Is it hibachi?
Yes to all of that, said Ken Yowell, who owns Oak City Meatball Shoppe and Calavera Empanadas and Tequila and will be opening Kaiju, possibly by the end of the year. He also said the restaurant will likely do some kind of Asian chicken wing.
Kaiju, next door to Oak City, will be Yowell’s third restaurant within 100 yards on the ground floor of the Red Hat building. He’ll open it with Anna Holland, a Raleigh and Durham restaurant veteran who has worked with Yowell for two-and-a-half years.
Yowell resists calling Kaiju a ramen shop, saying that doesn’t go far enough. What he and Holland will commit to is a concept of Asian noodles and steamed buns and lots of surprises.
“I don’t want to pigeonhole us into people thinking we’re just a ramen shop,” Yowell said. “At this point we’re a bit of a moving target. We’ll have a changing menu that will be Asian-influenced, with ramen at some point. ... With Kaiju, we’re going to be a little more adventurous and a little less afraid we’re going to fail and constantly be trying things.”
Bao, the pillowy, folded steamed buns, will be the most predictable thing on the menu, Yowell said, with three standard bao options and a daily special on the menu. Everything else will be a diverse and rotating mix of cultures and cravings, from Korean chicken wings and bibimbap (a Korean mixed rice bowl) to bowls of ramen, both the laborious real deal and plays on the instant kind sustaining so many students their first few years in college.
“A real bowl of ramen is anything but instant,” Yowell said.
“But we want people to know what to expect,” Holland said. “They may fall in love with a bowl of ramen one day, but it might not be there the next.”
Kaiju may teach diners a new way of thinking about the days of the week. So far, a few daily specials include “Slurp Sunday,” “Monday Bunday” and “Tako Tuesday” for the Japanese word for octopus.
Yowell and Holland are working toward an opening sometime in December and said there isn’t anything structural that needs to be done to the space, just that it needs a makeover. Its last tenant was a Dickey’s Barbecue Pit franchise, which closed a year ago. They said they want the space to look playful and are planning a comic-themed mural.
The Kaiju logo shows a small cartoon monster with a bowl of noodles on its head, horns and a pair of chopsticks.
“Kaiju means ‘strange monster’ or ‘strange beast,’ ” Yowell said.
“Godzilla, think Godzilla,” Holland said.
Drew Jackson; 919-829-4707; @jdrewjackson