Temporary chicken: Amherst restaurateur opens “pop-up” restaurant

  • Honeycrisp Fried Chicken at 1 Boltwood Walk in Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Varieties of Korean fried chicken offered at Honey Crisp Fried Chicken in Amherst are its signature red, front, black, top left, and cider honey mustard. Pickled daikon radish on the side. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A kimchi quesadilla, made with kimchi, carmelized onions, a three-cheese blend and sesame leaf rests on a grill during preparation at Honey Crisp Fried Chicken. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jason Chiang, who is the head chef at Honeycrisp Fried Chicken in Amherst, cooks the ingredients for a bulgogi quesadilla with steak, Thursday, March 21, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jason Chiang, who is the head chef at Honey Crisp Fried Chicken in Amherst, cooks the ingredients for a bulgogi quesadilla with steak. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • At left, Joe Deng, who is the owner of Honey Crisp Fried Chicken (shown above) in Amherst, talks about his business. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A kimchi quesadilla, made with kimchi, carmelized onions, a three-cheese blend and sesame leaf rests on a cutting board at Honeycrisp Fried Chickent. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jason Chiang, who is the head chef at Honeycrisp Fried Chicken in Amherst, cooks the ingredients for a bulgogi quesadilla with steak, Thursday, March 21, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Taiwanese basil popcorn chicken at Honeycrisp Fried Chicken, 1 Boltwood Walk, Amherst. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bulgogi quesadilla with steak at Honey Crisp Fried Chicken in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2019 12:18:14 AM

AMHERST — When Joe Deng brought LimeRed Teahouse to Amherst in 2011, he leased space on Main Street for the restaurant where people could enjoy hundreds of flavors of bubble tea, along with artisan hot teas, dumplings and Asian buns.

Eight years later, after opening additional sites in Northampton and Boston and revising its menu, Deng is launching a temporary restaurant focused on fried chicken, which he says will allow him to determine if his customers who love bubble tea want to see more from LimeRed.

Previously used by Balance restaurant and meal preparation service, and in the same building as LimeRed, Deng took over the final months of the lease for 1 Boltwood Walk to open Honey Crisp Fried Chicken in February. Deng said he found it an ideal situation as he didn’t want to commit to a long-term lease, noting that, like all restaurants, he is facing challenges with the increase in the state minimum wage.

“We finally feel ready enough to expand into new passions beyond tea while staying true to our mission, which is to bring unique food, that are normally behind cultural doors, to everybody,” Deng said.

“I’m basing the entire operation on the idea that people are looking for new things to eat,” Deng said.

Deng explains that the restaurant, which has just three employees and no waitstaff, is specializing in Korean fried chicken and Taiwanese popcorn chicken, which he calls the menu’s “headline” items.

Head chef Jason Chiang said he spent several months perfecting the chicken dishes. “It’s a point of pride for us that all the chicken is crispy and retains that crispiness,” Chiang said.

The restaurant is adding Asian street foods and adjusting the menu depending on how well people like items, Deng said. One of the new entrees is Vietnamese-styled egg rolls, made using spiced ground pork and taro roots and carrots, with some Korean-Mexican fusion in the form of bulgogi quesadillas, with caramelized onions and marinated steak, and kimchi quesadillas with caramelized onions and kimchi.

“The whole point is, we’re not afraid to be inspired by the best of Asia, and do not want to be constrained to being called a Chinese restaurant or a Korean one,” Deng said. “We want to break new ground and people are being really receptive to it, calling our meals some of the best fried chicken they’ve had.”

Prices range from $8 to $16 for the entrees.

Amherst Business Improvement Director Sarah la Cour said she is excited by the broadening concept of what can be a pop-up store.

La Cour said pop-ups are a growing trend in downtowns, and often a way to test an idea or product without investing in long-term leases or renovations.

“It has been primarily about retail, but chefs and food vendors are trying it out now more and more,” la Cour said.

They can be a good thing for the downtown because, even though this may mean more turnover of businesses, pop-ups can provide a new experience for regular diners and shoppers.

“The concept brings a great buzz and vibe to Amherst just like in other downtowns,” la Cour said.

Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz said pop-up stores are more frequently seen in places where there are more empty storefronts due to the online retailing phenomenon.

“This is an example of how the market is responding to larger trends nationally, both entrepreneurs and property owners are finding interesting way to keep storefronts active,” Kravitz said.

But Kravitz said even with more innovative leases that can allow pop-ups, it is likely harder for restaurants because of the permitting and inspection process. Food trucks, he said, are often a way in other cities and towns to test a concept before leasing brick-and-mortar space. Deng said the space he is using already had a functioning kitchen, which streamlined the process, but he still had to install fryers and meet with inspectors.

“It was a little challenging, but the town’s health department worked with us. There were some things I just couldn’t circumvent,” Deng said.

Deng will determine at the end of May whether the new restaurant has met with success that would allow him to take Honey Crisp beyond the pop-up concept and whether he could commit to a long-term lease, or find another spot to continue the temporary business.

“Where we go from there will be determined by how much we feel we’ve impacted the community and brought new life to the food scene,” Deng said. “We just wanted to try something new, no different than when we pioneered the first bubble tea shop in town.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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