East Village resident Asher Sendyk recently opened his very first restaurant — Evil Katsu, a pop-up ghost kitchen offering picks ups and deliveries at 101 Rivington St. between Essex and Ludlow.
"After I was laid off earlier in the year I figured I would take a stab at my own business," said Sendyk, whose experience includes stints at Casa Mono, Blue Hill and in an administrative role at Dig Inn.
Sendyk's restaurant partner is another East Village resident, Chris Wagenlander, a former sous chef from Casa Mono. And Wagenlander's wife, Hai Oliveira, is the sous chef at Evil Katsu.
"We live a few blocks apart on First Avenue, thus 'Evil' as a portmanteau of East Village," Sendyk said.
Evil Katsu offers a variety of katsu sets, sandos (aka Japanese sandwiches) and sides. (The menu is here.)
Sendyk answered a few other questions about the venture, which debuted on Dec. 9...
Is this just for the winter or will you consider expanding into the spring?
We hope to have a proper brick and mortar eventually. Our lease is month to month. We are using this as a test. Hopefully people like it and we get the traction we need.
Is it delivery only or can people stop by to pick up an order?
It is both delivery and pick up. We welcome take out. Although conceived as a ghost concept we have surprisingly had a decent amount of walk-in interest.
What are some of the challenges of launching a virtual brand — especially during a pandemic?
It has been a heck of a struggle. 1) We are short on funds. Branding has been organic. We are competing against well-heeled brands and chains who can dominate the airwaves. 2) A storefront is phenomenal marketing. Without the physical asset we've been reliant on Instagram, press, word-of-mouth, etc. 3) The delivery platforms' commissions are insane! (We are very appreciative that the city has temporarily capped them.) And their service ain't always great. Plus, we don't have control over our product once it leaves our doors — thankfully the drivers have been patient and understanding.
All that being said, this environment has permitted us to develop and launch a concept within two and a half months. While our rent is by no means cheap now — we're gonna have to sell a lotta katsu! — we couldn't have done this in normal times. We hope our offering has resonance in a time when indoor dining is prohibited and we can bring the brand with us, whatever's next.
What are your thoughts on the future of delivery-only restaurants?
They've unsurprisingly exploded this year. Consumers are now accustomed to paying more for the service. We see them as being a significant part of the culinary landscape moving ahead, although perhaps not as prominent as they are at this moment.
We are excited to offer a chef-driven product that was developed from the get-go for delivery versus restaurants that pivoted their normal menus for delivery.