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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Munsok So, Owner of Drunken Fish and Kimchi Guys, Is as Dedicated to the Landing As Ever

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 9:23 AM

click to enlarge Owner Munsok So, best known for Drunken Fish, never gave up on the Landing. - MABEL SUEN
  • MABEL SUEN
  • Owner Munsok So, best known for Drunken Fish, never gave up on the Landing.

Munsok So, owner of Drunken Fish and Kimchi Guys, has had plenty of reasons to run from Laclede’s Landing.

In well over a decade in the historic riverfront neighborhood, he’s seen once-thriving nightclubs empty out, suffered through years of traffic-choking construction on the neighboring Gateway Arch grounds and even endured the partial collapse of the five-story building he bought in 2006.



Instead of bailing out, So has daringly invested — and reinvested — in his building, which now dedicates two floors to a pair of event spaces with a third, basement-level venue on the way. But just when it seemed like he’d survived the worst, COVID-19 hit. So says he had to slash expenses through the early part of the pandemic, laying off 82 percent of the staff at his restaurants and the event spaces.

"We've cut costs on labor expenses, marketing, advertising, things of that sort. We're just operating a little bit leaner than we have in the past," So says.

Recently, he’s begun rehiring some of his staff as business slowly ramps up again. Despite the difficulty hospitality businesses have been experiencing, So reopened the doors of his event business a few weeks ago. And it's doing well considering the current climate.

"We're getting a lot more interest and a lot more traffic through our websites and inquiries about doing tours," So says. "It's been going well — obviously we're practicing social distancing and taking temperatures at the door."

click to enlarge Munsok So's building on the Landing. - CHELSEA NEULING
  • Chelsea Neuling
  • Munsok So's building on the Landing.

The business is called 612 North Events Space + Catering, named after the building’s location at 612 North Second Street. So has been booking events since 2018 in the two event spaces, VUE on the top floor and KOR on the main floor, each seating at least 150 guests. As of now, So plans to start construction on a third event space, ARC, on the building’s lower level by 2021. He has already had contractors come take a look at the space and begin planning.

There are several events that are coming up, and So says he’s working with his clients to ensure everyone is safe and everything runs smoothly.

It’s a fraught time for the hospitality industry, especially for people operating large venues. On July 28, the city cracked down on four bars and clubs — the Wheelhouse, Start Bar, Marquee Restaurant & Lounge, and So’s Landing neighbor Big Daddy’s — that officials say were flouting coronavirus safety requirements with packed dance floors and mask-less parties. All four have been required to shut down for two weeks.

Among those pushing the city to act were restaurateurs and brewers who feared the bad actions of a few would ruin reopening plans industry wide.

So says that business is slowly getting back to normal, but he does fear the possibility of St. Louis going back into full lockdown and having to close his event spaces and restaurants. "It absolutely worries me,” he says. “If we go backwards, most businesses will be in real trouble, including me."

One of So's goals in opening his event spaces in the Landing is to revitalize the neighborhood and downtown St. Louis in general.

"That's always been one of my forethoughts, just trying to bring the Landing back to what it was in the past and make it more vibrant and make it more tourist friendly," So says.

Construction and road closures during a massive overhaul of the Arch grounds were a nightmare for Landing business owners, but now that it’s done, there is easy walking access to the district. So’s building, with his fast-casual Korean fried chicken restaurant Kimchi Guys on the ground floor, is the first thing Arch visitors see after wandering under the Eads Bridge into the neighborhood.

He envisions the Landing leaving its old nightlife identity behind and re-establishing it as one of the city’s preeminent neighborhoods, with strolling tourists and destination events. The pandemic is just one more challenge.
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