Derek Cha is at it again.
The founder of frozen yogurt empire Sweet Frog is cooking up a new restaurant idea that will launch with a food truck in Richmond and a location in Charlottesville.
Cha unveiled the new Korean barbecue concept — branded as Zzaam! Fresh Korean Grill – yesterday in the parking lot at the Sweet Frog headquarters at 10800 Midlothian Turnpike. Sweet Frog employees had first dibs on Cha’s Korean barbecue tacos and bowls.
Much like his dessert business, which has grown to more than 300 locations since its launch in Richmond in 2009, Cha has a big vision for Zzaam! and said he is looking to franchise his newest concept. (Sweet Frog was the No. 3 fastest-growing firm in Richmond in 2012 according to last year’s RVA 25 list).
“I believe we can make it as successful as Chipotle,” he said.
While the Zzaam! food truck travels Richmond’s growing food truck scene, a brick-and-mortar spot in Charlottesville at 1232 Emmet St. is set to open this summer. The new venture will also do catering.
Cha signed a five-year lease for a two-level 3,000-square-foot free-standing space in UVA-country.
“I wanted to be in Carytown but couldn’t find the perfect location,” Cha said. “I’m continuing to look and wait for the right location, but I want my first one (in Richmond) to be in Carytown.”
For the first year, Cha said he wants to see how his Charlottesville location performs and may add a second store there before taking Zzaam! to other markets. He said he’ll look to drop into small-to-medium-sized towns that have a college or university.
The food truck cost about $100,000, and the Charlottesville location will cost about $500,000 to get up and running, Cha said. He is financing the initial launch without investors but will court them later, he said.
Cha, who is of Korean descent, said he found confidence in the growing recognition of Korean popular culture around the world. He said America is ready for Korean food to be part of mainstream offerings.
“Korean food is popular in major cities like New York and L.A.,” Cha said. “In smaller towns and in Richmond, they are really lacking Korean food choices.”
The name, Zzaam!, is derived from “ssam,” the Korean word for wrap, Cha said.
“I wanted to have a name that’s cool and hip, that can grab the attention of younger millennials,” he said. “The z really grabs other people’s attention.”