Retail Tipsheet: Longtime Bellingham restaurateur opens tap room in former sushi spot

There is only so much sushi one can prepare before needing a break, and Steve Kim reached that limit.

Kim and his family operated Osaka Japanese Restaurant for 13 years before closing it last September. In trying to figure out what to do next, the family put the building up for sale, with one deal falling apart right before closing the sale. After bouncing some ideas around, they decided to open Hops ‘N Headz last month in that building at 3207 Northwest Ave.

Going with a different format appears to have revitalized Kim’s passion for running a restaurant, and with the help of business partner Ralph Cuellar he has remodeled the place for a different look. They have plans to do more.

“It’s hard to have the passion and drive for preparing sushi,” Kim said. “I think we got stagnant.”

The new tap room format includes 30 beers on tap, many of which are locally made, as well as menu items like chicken wings and burgers. The new-found creativity is also there, as the menu delves into some unusual tap room items, including deep fried Kool-Aid (mixed into a cake batter) and Twinkies, a kimchi burger made with Kobe beef, and gyoza dumplings. Kim said they plan on adding other menu items once they get past the start-up phase, with some of the foods having Asian influence. It’s possible he may have an occasional throw-back sushi night. With its different rooms in the building, families and those under 21 can eat food there.

In the first couple weeks of what’s been a soft opening, the nearby neighborhoods have discovered the place. Kim is expecting Hops ‘N Headz to be a family-friendly neighborhood hangout. Early on, it’s also a place people are walking to: One recent night Kim noticed the place was full but the parking lot was half empty.

Other plans in the works include turning the Japanese garden in the back into a beer garden. He wants to maintain the garden that his father put so much work into when they opened Osaka, but also have a seating area so people can enjoy a brew in a park-like setting. The koi fish probably won’t be back, however, because he said the racoons and kingfishers took out the original koi. The place will be adding games, such as darts and trivia nights.

Hops ‘N Headz is open noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Details about the place can be found at its Facebook page.


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