Spoonful Brings Korean Sweet Treats to St. Louis


click to enlarge Spoonful Desserts specializes in bingsu, a frozen Korean dessert. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Spoonful Desserts specializes in bingsu, a frozen Korean dessert.

When Monica Lee moved home to St. Louis from Beijing in 2020, she was shocked by what she didn't find. Nowhere in her hometown carried bingsu, the dessert that she'd come to love during the several years she lived in Asia; it was so ubiquitous everywhere she traveled in the region — China, South Korea, Southeast Asia — that she took for granted the delectable treat was just as popular back home. To her dismay, she simply could not find bingsu anywhere, so she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Now, two years after coming home, Lee has succeeded in her mission of introducing St. Louis to her beloved treat with Spoonful (12943 Olive Boulevard, 314-485-1757), a dessert cafe that opened in west St. Louis County, near Olive Boulevard and Fee Fee Road, on February 17. Centered around bingsu, a snow-like, frozen cream dessert that is like a hybrid of ice cream and shaved ice, Spoonful is steeped in Korean dessert cafe culture, something Lee is excited to introduce to her hometown.

"In Korea, cafe culture is really big," Lee says. "They are warm, inviting and open pretty late, because Koreans will drink coffee any time of day. Also, desserts are their own thing in Korea; restaurants do not offer dessert as part of the menu. It's just different than how restaurants are here, so that's why there are so many dessert cafes."

click to enlarge Owner Monica Lee is excited to share her passion for bingsu with St. Louis. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Owner Monica Lee is excited to share her passion for bingsu with St. Louis.

Though Lee had an inkling bingsu would be well-received in St. Louis, she did not jump right in to opening a place of her own but instead tested the waters at her cousin's Korean restaurant, Joo Joo. He was looking to freshen up the place and felt that, because of her past restaurant experience and travels throughout Asia, Lee might be able to bring some new ideas to his established eatery. Although traditionally, Korean restaurants do not serve dessert, she figured Joo Joo would be a good place to introduce bingsu to the St. Louis market, and in January of 2021, she added it to the menu to see what would happen. It was an instant success.

"That really gave me the green light and make me think I could start a bingsu cafe here," Lee says. "It works so well in other cities. Why not St. Louis?"

Located just two storefronts down from Joo Joo, Spoonful has become an instant success beyond what Lee imagined. She notes that, while many of her customers already experienced bingsu when she put it on the menu at Joo Joo, the majority of those who come into the dessert cafe are new to the treat. She loves watching their reactions as they try the snow-like dessert for the first time.

"It's as soft and fluffy as freshly fallen snow, but it's milk-based, not ice," Lee says. "It's as if someone melted vanilla ice cream. People are like, 'woah!' the first time they try it."

click to enlarge Spoonful's warm environment invites guests to linger. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Spoonful's warm environment invites guests to linger.

For now, Lee is limiting her bingsu offerings to a vanilla base flavor and offers toppings such as condensed milk, fresh fruit, cookies and cream, and a roasted soybean powder with mochi. She's been experimenting with other base varieties, however, and is currently working on a Vietnamese ice coffee version, as well as a strawberry blonde.

In addition to bingsu, Lee is also excited about Spoonful's other sweet offering, tayaki, (also known by its Korean name, bungeoppang) which is a stuffed waffle that originated in Japan and is now popular in Korea. Shaped like a fish, the freshly-baked dessert is typically filled with sweet red bean paste, thought it can be filled with both sweet and savory toppings. Currently, Lee offers a version stuffed with the chocolate-hazelnut concoction Nutella.

Lee has partnered with local roaster Blueprint Coffee for her drip, espresso and wholesale bean offerings, and she hopes that Spoonful will come to be known as much for its coffee shop culture as it is for its desserts. In her mind, there's no better place to be than a cafe that serves sweet fluffy snow, fresh waffles and great coffee. 
"People love eating taiyaki with coffee; they just go so well together," Lee says. "There are just so many pairings you can do, and in Korea that's just the expectation. I hope, at the end of the day, this is a cafe that is really inviting and has that coffee shop atmosphere that people want to spend time in. I think people are really excited about that."

Spoonful is open Tuesday through Sunday from noon until 9 p.m. Scroll down for more photos of Spoonful.

click to enlarge Taiyaki, a stuffed waffle, is filled with Nutella. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Taiyaki, a stuffed waffle, is filled with Nutella.

click to enlarge Spoonful is both a dessert spot and coffee shop. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Spoonful is both a dessert spot and coffee shop.

click to enlarge Owner Monica Lee hopes Spoonful will be a neighborhood gathering place. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Owner Monica Lee hopes Spoonful will be a neighborhood gathering place.

click to enlarge Bingsu, a popular frozen treat, is like creamy snow and topped with a variety of fruits and sauces. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Bingsu, a popular frozen treat, is like creamy snow and topped with a variety of fruits and sauces.

click to enlarge Taiyaki can be filled with both sweet and savory ingredients. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Taiyaki can be filled with both sweet and savory ingredients.

click to enlarge Spoonful is a taste of Korea in St. Louis. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Spoonful is a taste of Korea in St. Louis.

click to enlarge Spoonful is now open in West St. Louis County. - VU PHONG
Vu Phong
Spoonful is now open in West St. Louis County.


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