Downtown Asbury Park restaurant Munch closed Friday after seven years at 632 Cookman Ave., and the owners of Mogo, the Korean taco stand on the boardwalk, have plans to take over the space.
Kendan “Ken” Lee has plans to sell the lease and all of the equipment in Munch to Mogo co-owners Jay Devino and Sam Chung. The two will open up a downtown location within the coming months, according to Lee.
Seven years ago, Munch moved into the space at 632 Cookman Ave. as one of the first two restaurants on Cookman Avenue.
Lee wanted to bring a “casual, affordable place to eat” to Cookman Avenue, he said. “That’s what was needed at the time.”
Before he opened Munch, Lee worked in advertising sales in Manhattan. He started taking night classes at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education towards the tail end of his advertising career, and then decided to make the move from New York to Asbury Park, since he liked the “city by the sea” feel and overall “vibe,” he said. “It stood out from other shore towns.” But, now it is time for him to move on.
“It’s all about life experiences,” he said. “I wanted to work and live in the city, and I did. I wanted to go to culinary school, and I did. Now, it’s on to the next thing.”
Lee can’t say whether his next project will be in Asbury Park or not. First, he has plans to take “a two to three month sabbatical, catch up with family and friends, and get some much needed rest and relaxation,” since working in the restaurant industry requires long hours and a lot of commitment, according to Lee.
“When you own a restaurant, you give up a lot,” he said.
A few weeks ago Lee, who is friends with Mogo co-owners Jay Devino and Sam Chung, sat down with the two for a friendly chat. During the course of the conversation, Lee, half-joking, told Chung and Devino to make him an offer on the space at Munch, Lee said. Within another two weeks or so, Chung and Devino did just that.
“The ball just went rolling from there,” Lee said.
Lee had several offers on the space before, but never took anyone seriously, he said.
The changeover from Munch to Mogo is a “great fit for Asbury Park,” he said. “It’s not another Italian place or burger place.”
Chung and Devino declined to comment at this time.
Caitlin Kelley, 25, has worked at Munch for 4 and a half years. She is sad the restaurant is set to close up shop forever, but understands Ken’s point of view.
“If it’s better for Kenny, and less stress on him, then it is worth it,” she said.
“Tell me it’s not true,” said Rachel Hirschfeld, 66, an Asbury Park resident, when she entered the restaurant this morning.
Hirschfeld has been a patron of Munch for several years, today she will eat two of the same exact meal there. It’s something Lee makes special for her — a blackened tuna salad. Hirschfeld likes her tuna blackened on the outside and rare on the inside, something she says is difficult to do properly, but Lee always gets it right.
“He would call me up and ask when I was coming in,” she said. “Just so he could go to the fish market in the morning. To have someone delight in food the way he does, makes it special,” Hirschfeld said.
“I’ll definitely miss Asbury Park,” said Lee. “There are some truly interesting characters here, but it’s important to follow your dreams.”
[Photo at top: Some of Munch’s patrons get set for one last meal.]