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Chef Lino Yi’s TKO, a Korean-American street food concept that first launched as a pop-up in April 2021, is set to open its first brick-and-mortar location in East Atlanta’s Southern Feedstore September 2022. Short for “The Korean One,” the 400-square-foot, counter-service menu will serve lunch, dinner and weekend late night.
TKO started as a one-night pop-up at Ration & Dram and has since surfaced at restaurants across the city, including Full Commission, Sweet Auburn BBQ, Buteco, Georgia Beer Garden and more. As Lino puts it, the menu at the new food stall is “familiar yet foreign and foreign yet familiar.” It will feature dishes the pop-up has become known for, like a Volcano Hot Dog with krab salad & eel sauce, Korean Fried Chicken Nuggets, Kimchi Fried Rice, Korean Corn Dogs and a Shrimp Basket with kimchi aioli & waffle fries. Guests will be able to grab food from the restaurant and enjoy it in the food hall’s communal seating area or take it to go.
“Much like my own upbringing, I’m forming a bridge between Korean and American cultures and traditions,” said Lino in a statement. “Growing up, our Thanksgiving dinners had turkey and gravy as well as Korean BBQ and kimchi. There is an amalgamation of new and retro called Newtro in Korean culture. It’s modernized retro, which is something I also want to represent in my food. I want to show respect for the rich history of both Korean and American food, but I want to modernize them with new techniques and ingredients.”
Growing up in America in a Korean family, Lino got his start in cooking through his parents. They opened a Korean restaurant, Korean Kitchen, in 2007 in Orlando, where he grew up. At 22 years old, Lino worked in the kitchen of the restaurant and learned a lot about cooking as well as Korean culture, tradition and family. Once the recession hit in 2010, they closed the restaurant, and Lino vowed that he’d someday open a Korean kitchen. With TKO, he’s looking forward to fulfilling that goal.
Currently, Lino serves a sous chef at Atlanta’s acclaimed, James Beard semifinalist Lazy Betty, where he has grown into his current role over the past three-and-a-half years. He will stay in this position until TKO officially opens. Prior to Lazy Betty, Lino moved to Atlanta in 2015 and worked at Makan in Decatur, which became Taiyo Ramen, and eventually worked his way up to chef de cuisine over four years. He’s also worked at a movie theater as a projectionist, at Publix as a baker and as a food truck chef.
Chef Aaron Phillips of Lazy Betty, Juniper Cafe and the forthcoming Humble Pie, and Atlanta beverage industry vet Carl Van Tyle Gilbert, also co-owner of Juniper Cafe and Humble Pie, will serve as partners.
TKO will be open daily for lunch and dinner, and for late night on the weekends.