Thomas Kim of the Rabbit Hole talks design, brunch, and being "non-traditional"

Chef and Rabbit Hole owner Thomas Kim
Chef and Rabbit Hole owner Thomas Kim
E. Katie Holm

It's been a very busy few years for Thomas Kim. He's moved cities, become a new dad, and opened not one but two successful restaurants with partner Kat Melgaard -- the Left Handed Cook and just recently the Rabbit Hole, both in the Midtown Global Market. 

With two eateries so close to each other, we had to wonder what the impetus was for starting up this second place (which we really quite liked, in case you missed it) and how the pair got it to look so amazing in such a short amount of time (hint: it was a whole lot of D.I.Y.) So we caught up with Kim to ask about how this new restaurant differs from their first and their future plans for this hip new watering hole. 

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The Hot Dish: What is your vision for the Rabbit Hole? 
Thomas Kim: We wanted to make a place where Kat [Melgaard] and I would like to hang out with our friends. We're not trying to reinvent the wheel or become some sort of beacon for traditional Korean food. And there's been some outside focus on us to create or replicate "traditional" Korean food, but I think authenticity and tradition is a very blurry line. We are not a traditional Korean restaurant. I am trying to create food that represents me and my Korean food memories. That may not be what people feel is "Korean enough" but we're really making food that is inspired by Korean flavors and not necessarily Korean tradition.

HD: How would you say the Rabbit Hole differs from the Left-Handed Cook, aside from the fact that it's more of a full-service place?

TK: The Rabbit Hole is different in style of service but also in approach to flavors. At LHC we look at food through multiple lenses -- things cross a lot of different borders. The Rabbit Hole is more focused on my interpretation of food from my childhood growing up in a Korean family. A singular lens, if you will. 

The Rabbit Hole is also a place that allows us to be creative with our cocktails. I can go crazy and make drinks that people may not have necessarily thought they would enjoy.

Rabbit Hole's entryway host stand
Rabbit Hole's entryway host stand
E. Katie Holm
HD: The design of the place is really unique, too. There's a lot going there. Who was responsible for the interior decorating? 
TK: The interior design duties went to Kat. She was responsible for dreaming up all the crazy stuff and I just put hammer to nail and built it for her. Many of the ideas and details are just from Kat being Kat. She has a great eye for design and is really creative in making things look great on a very, very tight budget. 

HD: Where did some of those ideas/items/details come from? What were the stories behind them?

TK: A lot of the items are salvaged from thrift stores or Goodwill. The inspirations for the interior started with the idea of a neighborhood bar found in 1970s Korea during my parents' youth. My father actually came to Minnesota and helped build a lot of the interior with me and he laughed at how Kat and I wanted to build a restaurant that looked like something from his youth. He thought young people wouldn't get it and it wouldn't be hip or cool. I hope to prove him wrong! 

Specifically, the teapots are actually a throwback to the pojangmacha found in Korea. They would serve drinks in these beat up old teapots and I really always loved that when I visited Korea as a kid. A lot of the aesthetics of old school Korean bars and restaurants during the 1970s came from Korea being very poor, so owners really tried to salvage whatever they could. We took that ideal and applied it to the Rabbit Hole as far as having a small budget and a DIY approach. We really just wanted to create a space that has a lot of whimsy and a fantastical aspect to it.

The front row to the bar at the Rabbit Hole
The front row to the bar at the Rabbit Hole
E. Katie Holm
HD: It's also a much bigger space than the one you were dealing with at the Left Handed Cook. Was that a challenge?

TK: We purposefully approached the restaurant with the mindset of dividing the space into three distinct areas: the dining room, the counter, and the bar. The dining room was to give you the feeling of being "tucked away" from everyone else; the counter created a private setting (because of the high backs on the booths) for diners to watch the cooks create the dishes like a culinary theater; and the idea for the bar was to create a space that was ideal for being social with the communal table purposefully made long and skinny to allow conversation between strangers or friends. 

HD: And finally, the million dollar question: Do you have plans to add brunch any time soon?
TK: We plan on adding brunch in the future and lunch service in the next couple months.

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