Though chef Wes Yoo lived in Seoul until he was in junior high school, he ate a fairly typical, multicultural Seattle diet as an adult, not placing much emphasis on Korean food — nor his Korean identity — in his day-to-day life. But in 2018, when he took over the Gerald, an American gastropub on the main strip of Ballard Avenue, people often asked him if he would add Korean food to the menu, a suggestion he found limiting. “Naw man, I can do more than that,” Yoo says he remembers thinking. “Just because I’m Korean doesn’t mean I have to just do Korean things.”
In March 2020, though, Yoo found himself quarantined at home, distraught and frightened about the future of a business that was just starting to grow. During these first few days of the pandemic, he chose to use his essential grocery store runs to go to H Mart. About a week into quarantine, he realized he’d eaten nothing but Korean food — something he hadn’t done since he left Korea two decades ago.
“That’s all I wanted every day,” Yoo says. “I realized that [when] I’m in a real crisis and my body is in panic mode, this is what I revert to.”
Yoo rediscovering his deep-seated love for Korean comfort foods led him to start a weekly Korean food pop-up in April 2020, mainly making larger portions of whatever dish he was excited about that week. As a social justice movement gained momentum in America following the murder of George Floyd in May of that year, Yoo’s desire to connect with his cultural identity grew, and eventually, in September, he turned The Gerald overnight into a Korean restaurant serving tteokkalbi, rice cake skewers, kimchi fried rice, and Korean fried chicken wings, though its name didn’t change.
Nearly two years after the pandemic started in Seattle, on March 4, he officially turned The Gerald into Wero, what Yoo describes as an “upscale Korean comfort food restaurant.” Yoo says many Korean restaurants, as they get more upscale or set up shop in trendy neighborhoods, start to become fusion restaurants, but his restaurant is about exploring his connection to Korea (his parents still live there), and he wants to keep the flavors true to what restaurants serve in Seoul today.
The food menu, which features eight dishes designed to rotate seasonally, includes kalbi-flavored wagyu zabuton steak served with ssam, ssamjang (spicy-sweet fermented bean sauce), and side dishes. Korean-style chicken wings and Korean tenderloin beef tartare are also available. The cocktail menu features house-made shrubs and bitters and East Asian liquors like makgeolli (rice wine), soju, Japanese whiskey, paired with creative ingredients like shiso, sesame oil, and pine nuts. The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining Wednesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; takeout is limited.
Hours will likely be expanded soon as the restaurant gets staffed up. For now, Yoo is acting as the “chef, GM, repairman, [and] janitor,” while Jamie Freedman, who worked at Tom Douglas Restaurants, executes his menu as chef de cuisine.
Through his restaurant, he says, Yoo finds himself “more Korean” than he’s felt for most of his adult life — a state that he says came from accepting and embracing who he is. The restaurant’s name, Wero, means “comfort” in Korean — the feeling he gets from Korean food, and one he hopes to share with his customers.