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It doesn’t seem to make sense that a 40-plus-year-old San Francisco Bay-area brunch joint is sharing valuable restaurant space with a fusion diner known for its Korean fried chicken and Los Angeles galbi with mac and cheese. It might be even more surprising that the owner of the Korean diner has never stepped foot in Korea, yet the breakfast baron has racked up many frequent flyer miles to Korea — particularly, Jeju Island.
David Blomster opened his second Dick Blomster’s Korean Diner officially Nov. 13 as the afternoon and night shift in Don Taylor’s Omelette Express, located in the historic Railroad Square district of Santa Rosa, a city about an hour north of San Francisco. During the ribbon-cutting party Nov. 17, I caught up with Blomster and Taylor, as the latter was pouring shots of homemade 12-year-old ginseng-infused soju for his business partners to celebrate the new collaboration.
Blomster opened his first pop-up Korean diner, called Dick Blomster’s, in Guerneville, California, in 2012, sharing space with Pat’s Diner, a Guerneville institution since the 1940s. For the first six months or so of his enterprise, Korean-American chef Eugene Birdsall helped him develop the menu for the restaurant and got the concept moving. Local residents embraced the restaurant so much that after a couple of years as a renter, Blomster made enough money to buy Pat’s Diner outright. A “popup” restaurant can be a one-off event, a market test or a business strategy to save money on rent and startup costs. So it’s unusual for a popup to buy its own landlord.
“I knew there was a need in West County for Korean cuisine,” Blomster said, referring to western Sonoma County, located just west of Napa Valley. At the time of his debut in 2012, the nearest Korean restaurants to Guerneville were Tov Tofu in Santa Rosa, which is a half hour drive east of Guerneville, or Bear Korean in Cotati, which was about 40 minutes away until it closed in 2014.
Although Blomster knows that popup restaurants are a hot trend in culinary circles, he doesn’t believe the term fully explains his restaurant concept.
“I don’t like being referred to as a popup, because popups lack permanence,” he said. “I consider Blomster’s Korean Diner a permanent popup.”
Blomster’s expansion to Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square district brings it among several high-end hotels, but there are few Asian restaurants within walking distance.
Taylor reached out to Blomster a few months ago to see if they could find a way to share his space with the Korean diner.
“This is a 40-year-old family restaurant that is not open at night, in the middle of Railroad Square,” Taylor said. “It’s a fabulous location.”
Blomster couldn’t ask for a better place for his second location. This Omelette Express restaurant is partially decorated with mementos from Taylor’s frequent trips over the last 15 years to Jeju Island, a popular vacation spot off the bottom of the South Korean peninsula. As a former Santa Rosa City Council member, Taylor has been instrumental in fostering Santa Rosa’s sister city relationship with Buk Jeju–Jeju City, the capital of the island province.
“I love Korean food,” Taylor said. “I am excited that David was making Korean food more accessible. He figured out how to make Korean food successfully.”
Blomster’s menu is partly inspired by his college years. He lived near L.A.’s Koreatown, with its mix of traditional Korean restaurants and more modern, hip noodle places.
“I wanted a playful combination of Korean, American and noodle dishes,” he said. “Ingredients like kimchi, ssamjang and gochujang are a starting point for the other items on the menu. We have a few traditional Korean dishes, like tteokbokki, which is a Korean street food, but I don’t claim to be or desire to be a traditional Korean restaurant.”
With dishes like mac and cheese, fried pickles and fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on menu, this Korean diner is equally inspired by Blomster’s roots in the U.S. heartland.
“I grew up in the Midwest, where ‘ethnic food’ was spaghetti,” he said.
One of Blomster’s favorite signature sides is buttered bread: sourdough slathered with butter and fried on a griddle. That’s inspired by his Detroit hometown.
Blomster’s Korean-style restaurant commands a 4 out of 5 rating on Yelp.
Dick Blomster’s Korean Diner
112 Fourth St. Santa Rosa, CA 95401 www.dickblomsters.com 707-525-1690 Hours: 5–10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 5–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday