Less than two months after popular New Orleans ramen shop Kin made a surprise shift to selling fried chicken, citing rising food costs, owner Hieu Than has announced he and his partners are calling it quits. In a heartfelt Instagram post, Than, who operated Kin alongside Gabriel Cambel and Ron Nevels, says that he wants to “take some time now, for me,” adding that “the losses from these two years have made me see only the most basic sense of nourishment in food. There is very little joy left.”
Than goes on to say that while he’s “not entirely ready” to say goodbye to the food industry, he is ready to say goodbye to Kin, at least for now.
For years after Than opened Kin with his partner Mei in 2015, the tiny but distinctive yellow building on Washington Avenue was reliably full, all 20 seats occupied by diners huddled elbow-to-elbow over bowls of ramen. After the pair became parents, Than told Eater last year, he and Mei wanted to spend less time “trying to be restaurant operators.” So in 2020, Than began solidifying a business partnership with Cambel, Kin’s front of house manager, and Nevels, a longtime chef at the restaurant, planning for a significant buildout scheduled for summer 2020; they had just completed architectural and engineering plans for demolition and rebuild when everything changed. “Right as the last payments to the engineers were paid, the pandemic hit and completely threw us off course,” Than said.
The pandemic emptied Kin’s small dining room, and the trio launched pop-ups and take-home ramen kits. Eighteen months later, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Southeast Louisiana, leaving most of New Orleans without power for 10 days and ultimately wiping out most local restaurants’ inventory, signaling the end for a number of spots already struggling with pandemic-related losses.
In late September, Than, who had already once reinvented Kin in 2016 as a more casual, ramen-centric version of the fine-dining restaurant that debuted the year prior, made a major change in hopes of keeping the business alive. Explaining that each bowl of Kin’s ramen contains over 30 ingredients — “the noodles alone account for six” — Than said that rising food costs had made it nearly impossible to turn a profit and that he and his team had decided to stop making ramen. (He said the decision was also prompted by the loss of all short-term and long-term inventory following Ida.) Kin reopened a few days later as a fried chicken restaurant, with shorter hours, and Than later introduced gumbo to the new offerings.
Than documented the restaurant’s reinvention on his popular Instagram account over the next six weeks, and launched delivery with local company D’livery Nola last month. The losses continued, however, with Than posting last week that the restaurant was broken into and the inventory taken. A few days later, he announced Kin’s last day would be Friday, November 5, inviting the shop’s many fans to come by for one last service, and “make this space feel like the sum of it’s [sic] people, one last time.”
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