It pushes limits. Traditional and innovative all at once, devoted to building the community and set on changing the culture of food, Junzi Kitchen challenges established ideas of what a restaurant should be.
Junzi Kitchen is a fast casual Northern Chinese restaurant founded by three former Yale graduate students, Yong Zhao FES ’15, Wanting Zhang FES ’11 and Ming Bai ART ’13. When customers walk into the restaurant, they can choose between a noodle bowl or a chun bing — a Chinese-style wrap. They are then ushered down a line where they choose which vegetables and sauces they would like to add to their food. The Broadway storefront has grown a large base of support and garnered a great deal of attention from the Yale population for its community engagement since its soft opening on Oct. 21.
“We are trying to be a business people believe in,” Junzi Kitchen Marketing Director Reed Immer said.
Immer explained that although quality food lies at the heart of Junzi Kitchen, owners envision opportunities to further involve their business with the New Haven community. He said they reached out to Elm City residents before opening their doors, approaching a local artist to design the store’s stools and asking people who passed by the restaurant to contribute to murals on the plywood that covered the storefront during their construction period, Immer said. The owners also plan to feature local artists in monthly installations in their restaurant and become a distribution center for independent food publications such as The Cleaver Quarterly, a food magazine, and potentially also student-run food publications.
Yong Zhao — Junzi Kitchen co-founder and chief executive officer — said the owners plan to release a late-night menu, which they hope will provide an upbeat and relaxing atmosphere for students. The menu will feature creations that their staff have developed during daily lunches in their kitchen, during which one staff member is given half an hour to create a dish from kitchen ingredients.
Zhao said some of the inspiration for the restaurant came from the street food markets he visited in China.
“We want to bring that late market feeling back to the restaurant,” Zhao said.
Head chef Lucas Sin ’15 said he was excited for this new late-night endeavor. Reminiscing upon his time cooking in pop-up restaurants around the Yale campus, he said he hopes to be able to capture the same energy between the chef and the consumer at Junzi Kitchen’s late-night events.
Sin said the restaurant’s two biggest concerns are how to best adapt traditional Chinese food to fit in American food culture and catering to consumers’ demand for fast food. He added that the restaurant strives to balance respecting Asia’s food culture with sourcing local ingredients.
“This is food that I’m proud of,” Sin said. “It really feels like my food.”
Junzi Kitchen owners seek to expand their influence beyond the Yale community, Immer said. The restaurant’s proximity to larger cities like New York and Boston means that the establishment has lots of opportunity for short-term growth, Sin said.
Junzi Kitchen is located at 21 Broadway.