Sam Jo creates dream place Anju Bar and Eatery in White Center
By Lindsay Peyton
Most days, Sam Jo can be found, power tools in hand and tape-measurer on his belt, working alongside a construction crew to build his dream.
The owner of Anju Bar and Eatery is not afraid to do the heavy lifting and the dirty work involved in building his bar and restaurant. In fact, he’s perfectly suited for the job.
Jo’s role models are his hard-working parents. His mother Joy is a nurse. His father Joe owned a series of small businesses, including restaurants, before becoming a minister.
“They’re superhero parents,” Jo said.
He received his degree in comparative literature and communications from the University of Washington in 2004. After graduating, however, he was unsure which direction his career would take him.
“I went to law school in San Diego, but then I realized that was a huge mistake,” Jo said with a laugh.
He took a job working for his uncle’s construction company in Southern California as a project manager and stayed in the post for nine years, traveling around the state and to Texas for jobs.
Eventually, Jo returned to Seattle to be closer to family and friends. He spent the next two years working for a different construction company. All the while, he knew he wanted to do something else, something better suited to his own interests.
Jo had worked in restaurants in high school and college and had a long-term dream of one-day opening his own place.
He decided to quit his job and took a few months off to travel around and solidify his plans.
“It was really scary leaving behind a steady savings and benefits, but I knew I wasn’t happy or fulfilled,” Jo said.
He spent time bartending and managing a few restaurants to get back on his feet in the industry and make certain that he still enjoyed it.
“It was humbling, but it was incredibly valuable,” Jo said. “It made me realize what I want to do—and what I don’t want to do—at my place.”
At the beginning of the year, he started looking for a location. Eventually, he found a spot in White Center.
The space is tucked behind a taqueria at 9641 15th Ave SW.
Jo said it was originally devoted to making kimchi, which is fitting since the condiment will be featured in a number of his dishes.
He explained that “anju” is Korean term for “food consumed with alcohol.” He plans to serve up a number of traditional Korean dishes—like bibimbap and savory scallion pancakes—as well as bar food with a Korean twist. Think kimchi quesadillas and pulled pork sliders with Korean spices.
His business partner Jason Ferrell is building a bar menu which will feature soju, a tradition Korean liquor, as well as a long list of playful cocktails.
“Let’s embrace that and raise a drink that’s aptly named,” Ferrell said. “We don’t want to be too highfalutin or take ourselves too seriously.”
He said the bar will also serve a makguli, an unfiltered Korean rice wine, and boricha, Korean roasted barley tea with a choice of cool syrups, like Saigon Cinnamon and Madagascar Vanilla Bean.
“To round it all out, we're also going to have a tight, Anju-appropriate wine list and 10drafts featuring only Seattle-area breweries,” Ferrell said.
The space had sat vacant for a while before Jo discovered it.
He was then able to transform the building’s shell into a cozy bar and restaurant, which is expected to open this summer.
Jo has already fallen in love with the neighborhood. “White Center is blowing up, and there’s diversity here,” he said.
Jo plans to add something a little different to the mix. “We want to offer a unique experience,” he said. “But I don’t want it to be a novelty. I just want this to be a bar where people like to go.”
Jo envisions Anju being the type of place where guests are comfortable lingering over a drink, grabbing a meal and connecting with friends.
In short, he’s creating the kind of bar and restaurant where he would want to go—and he’s giving his all to making it the best version of his vision.
“I’m putting everything I have into this,” he said.
For more information, visit www.anjuseattle.com.