May 18, 2016

Chatting with a (Literal) Tastemaker in D.C.’s North End of Shaw


Image courtesy of Kyirisan Facebook page

Kyirisan, the Chinese-French fusion restaurant spearheaded by Tim Ma opened in the North End of Shaw on March 22, to the delight of local foodies. Kyirisan is Ma’s fourth restaurant and first in D.C., and since opening, the modern, but warm restaurant has been praised by some of D.C.’s most seasoned critics including The Washington Post, Washington City Paper and The DCist.

Kyirisan is on the ground floor of the mixed-use apartment community The Shay, with neighbors that include Glen’s Garden Market, Warby Parker and Compass Coffee. These are pretty sophisticated names for a part of town that, only a couple years ago, didn’t have too much other than the 9:30 Club and Ben’s Chili Bowl to its name.

So how did Ma and Joey end up placing their faith (not to mention personal savings) into their latest restaurant and the North End of Shaw? While I treated myself to some Hanger Steak (with a kalamansi baste, carrot fresno salad and soy herb churri), Joey shared some of their experiences in setting up shop in the neighborhood.

Building Before the Boom

Not unlike other D.C. business stories, networking initially set the stage for their move to 8th Street and U. Tim and Joey learned about plans to develop The Shay through different connections that stemmed from one of Tim’s Georgia Tech buddies, and they signed on as one of the first tenants three years ago.

While Shaw might seem saturated with cafes and elevated shopping now, Joey explained how difficult it was to sometimes envision the final reality. “It’s hard to imagine when you have these plans, and there’s nothing here yet…It was hard to imagine what the culture was going to be.” She went on to explain there was no certainty on if the area would eventually become a shopping destination, or a string of bars and cafes. Tim Ma shared a similar sentiment with City Paper: “I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re going to be one of the only restaurants. And now, we’re just another blurb.”

Despite any surprises, Joey believes the North End of Shaw is the perfect compliment to the goals and essence of Kyirisan. “We’re very simple people. We didn’t want a huge space, that’s not who we are. We needed something manageable, something in a neighborhood…it’s really nice to see how the neighborhood evolved.”

Tapping into the Neighborhood’s Energy

The actual name Kyirisan as it turns out, is both a nod to Ma’s Chinese heritage and to his and Joey’s three children. This infusion of family and community is evident in every part of the Kyirisan dining experience. To start, the restaurant only accepts same-day reservations. Joey explained that it was never their goal to be the fancy, high-end place that you only eat at during a birthday or anniversary. They absolutely want you to celebrate those milestones with them, but they also want to be the neighborhood go-to, the place you and your friends decide on for an intimate meal during a regular get-together.

Joey feels the North End of Shaw is where they can establish themselves as your delicious default – her favorite thing about the neighborhood is the energy. “There’s always something happening, I love that. I love that there’s a lot of energy in creating this community….it really is a work here, shop here, play here environment and not just a row of bars.”

And the neighborhood is happy to have Kyirisan. While Tim and Joey might be feeding off (and feeding directly!) the energy of residents in new properties like The Shay and nearby Atlantic Plumbing, these new luxury apartments and condos are likewise relishing being so close to popular eateries. The arrivals of restaurants like Kyirisan are an amenity to these properties, and help validate the neighborhood as a desirable place to live. Joey noted that many of their customers are locals from the nearby apartment buildings, in addition to loyal regulars who have followed their careers.

Although Joey said they currently have no plans to open a second Kyirisan location, she did express if Tim and she expanded on any of their other concepts (Chase the Submarine deli in Vienna for instance), she would love to do that in the North End of Shaw.

“I love that it’s evolving, and that we’re at the center of that.”