A new Korean BBQ restaurant brings a one-of-a-kind dining experience to Louisville
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos by Phil Cooley
Louisville’s restaurant scene is ever-evolving, a recent addition being Gogi 1055 Korean BBQ located in the Highlands. It opened in early 2020 but had to close two weeks later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant is set in an old theater that has been home to multiple restaurants over the years prior to Gogi 1055. The owners utilized Kiel Thomson Company (KTC) Construction and Pickett Passafiume Architects to help them achieve the remarkable interior and experience of Gogi 1055.
According to Kiel Thomson, founder and CEO of KTC Construction, “The owners wanted a modern take on Korean cuisine and barbeque. We took our inspiration from their vision and the cuisine itself, which is refined and complex, but at the same time appears straightforward and elemental. There’s a lot of layering of textures. We wanted the space and design to reflect that,” explained Nick Passafiume, the principal, partner and architect for Pickett Passafiume Architects. The owners wanted to play on the history of the building and create a theater-type feel for the restaurant. With an open kitchen layout in mind, the designers and architects decided to place the open kitchen in the middle of the building to make it the center of attention, like a theater stage. “It’s also the employees of the restaurant; they are there to put on a show. They’re professional when you go in and treat you so well. They want you to have an experience. The servers cook your food at the table and they do a wonderful job,” explained Dawn Marshall, the director of operations for KTC Construction.
There are four rooms in the dining room, each unique in that they give the guests a different experience depending on where you sit. “In our minds, there are four dining areas, each distinct but still a part of the whole. The open kitchen where food is displayed and prepared became a stage around which all the dining areas unfold. Some areas are more intimate, while others are more animated and dynamic. We utilized custom and large-scale ceiling elements and lighting to help articulate and design these areas. Ultimately, we wanted to celebrate the communal aspect of cooking and eating at the table and create unique moments for parties of all sizes,” explained Passafiume. The restaurant in the space before had hidden away the view of bustling Bardstown Road, so that was one of the first things the design team decided to fix, according to Jeff Pickett, the managing principal, partner and architect for Pickett Passafiume Architects.“There was a real conscious effort to make a connection to Bardstown Road that wasn’t there before. The idea of the open-central kitchen as a ‘stage’ was inspired by the original theater use of the building,” explained Pickett.
The main highlight of Gogi 1055 is the downdraft grill tables. Each table has a grill in the middle, allowing the employees to cook the guests’ meals at the table in front of them. It is similar to a hibachi experience but vented in a different way than hibachi tables. In the photos, you can see there is no hood over the table and no wires snaking throughout the restaurant. This is because they were able to do all of it underground. “The owners, to their credit, were very adamant about all of that being done in a downdraft fashion. This means that everything is vented, exhausted and taken care of below the tables, which in our case was below an existing concrete floor. It created a huge design opportunity for us, but also an incredible challenge for Kiel’s team,” explained Passafiume. “The owners were able to source a proprietary grill table out of Japan and Kiel’s team locally figured out how to execute and install these as a part of a complete system. If we had not pursued the downdraft system, we would have had a spaghetti junction of pipes and venting equipment overhead. What they were able to execute is basically a subway system of stainless steel pipes, wires and gas lines below grade. It was really remarkable.” This method is currently not being used anywhere else in the United States.
This system of hiding away all of the mechanics of the table allowed the design team to utilize the ceiling space for more design features, according to Passafiume. There are large steel light fixtures and meticulous lattice design work covering one ceiling. According to Marshall, the ventilation system allows people to leave the restaurant after enjoying a meal without the smokey or Korean barbeque smell that can often linger. “This is the safest restaurant in the city, if not the country, because we’re changing the air in the entire space where you dine eight times every hour with fresh exterior air. It’s incredible. It’s pulling the smoke and smell through the table and out of the building. We don’t have people breathing in each other’s air like you would at a typical table,” explained Thomson.
Achieving the owner’s goal of having a downdraft grill table was no easy task. The team researched in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco to see how and if other restaurants had employed this method. None had been able to hide the mechanics as this team did in Gogi 1055, but the research certainly helped them accomplish it, according to Thomson. “The challenge for us was how to get past fire codes, dealing with the city that had never seen any of this before and getting engineers to sign off. It took us over a year to get through the permitting process,” explained Thomson. “We had to prove to the city that this could be done in a safe way. Many hours were spent on this and I think what we have is a really beautiful space that would not have worked if we had to lay the mechanicals on the ground and step over them or have everything hanging from the ceiling.” For a unique, safe and delicious dining experience unlike anywhere else, check out the Highlands’ newest restaurant, Gogi 1055.
Gogi 1055 Korean BBQ
1055 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40204
Kiel Thomson Company Construction
925 Samuel Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Pickett Passafiume Architects
1974A Douglass Blvd.
Louisville, KY 40205