Written by The Business Journal Staff
Bay Areae fusion chain KoJa Kitchen rang in the New Year with a Grand Opening at its newest location at 7785 N. Palm in Fresno’s Park Place at Palm Bluffs shopping center.
KoJa stands for Korean-Japanese, and the restaurant offers a fusion of flavors from both cultures. Its most popular dish is a gourmet sandwich, called KoJa, which is similar to a burger, but includes a choice of meat served between fried garlic rice buns.
The restaurant also serves rice bowls with various choices of meat and veggies, as well as tacos and salads. Side dishes include Buffalo wings and KoJa Kitchen’s famous Kamikaze fries — crisscut waffle fries, minced Korean barbecue beef, kimchi, Japanese mayonnaise, red sauce and green onions.
KoJa Kitchen began serving its Korean-Japanese grub from a food truck in the San Francisco Bay area in 2011. Its popularity made it a feature on two Food Network shows: Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Eat Street. KoJa Kitchen opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2014 and now boasts five locations in the Bay Area.
“The original lunch truck grew into a location in Berkeley and multiple Bay Area locations came from that,” Tom Lai, co-owner of the Fresno franchise, said. “KoJa is a very trendy food now, and we went this far out because we think Fresno is ready. It’s a new market but we expect it to be successful. All our reviews are 5-star so far.”
Lai and partners Mike Nguyen and Van Ngo are not the founders of KoJa Kitchen, but wanted to open a franchise because Korean-Japanese infused cuisine intrigued them.
“KoJa has been popular the last two years and we were looking for a good restaurant to open, and I fell in love with KoJa right away,” Lai said. “It is a great marriage of the two foods, with Japanese cuisine being sweeter and the Korean kimchi adding to that for a good balance of flavors.”
The Fresno location is the first KoJa Kitchen outside of the Bay Area, but there are plans to open locations in Rocklin and Los Angeles/Irvine this year.
KoJa Kitchen’s space in the Park Place shopping center has seen a lot of turnover the past few years. Previous tenants include Capo’s Italian Restaurant, The Venue, and Twist Restaurant.
Lai said the spot was selected because it’s in a newer area with plenty of traffic thanks to anchor tenant GB3. Lai also said the food available at KoJa caters to the area’s demographic.
Lai relocated to Fresno from the Bay Area to help run the franchise and said the Central Valley city is a good place to do business.
“I enjoy the people here, and Fresno is bigger than I expected,” Lai said. “In terms of business itself, Fresno has really good opportunity.”
Raw Earth Juicery offers Fresnans fast, healthy option
There’s a new option in north Fresno for those who have made the popular New Year’s resolution to eat healthy.
Raw Earth Juicery, located in the Parkwood Plaza Shopping Center on the northeast corner of Cedar and Nees avenues, opened its doors to instant success last month.
Owner Rick Rosales said the juicery’s fresh cold-pressed juices, smoothies and organic fruit and granola bowls have sold out nearly every day since the opening.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Rosales said of the support. “So many people are coming in, and we’re meeting all these new people from the local neighborhoods in Fresno and Clovis. They’ve been buying everything up and we’ve been selling out of our juice. We make fresh juice every day, and we always sell out of it sometime between noon and 2 p.m.
“The demand is really strong. More people are becoming sophisticated about the choices they make when it comes to their lifestyle and eating habits.”
Rosales credits the power of social media coupled with word-of-mouth for the steady stream of new customers coming in to taste the variety of fruit juices made each day.
More and more, Rosales said he is seeing people become increasingly concerned with their health and wellness, but for many it’s a constant struggle to eat healthy when you have a busy lifestyle that keeps you on the go. Raw Earth Juicery, he said, fills a void for those wanting something quick that is not only a healthy alternative to fast food, but is as healthy as you can get.
“What really sets us apart is we are the first place in town committed to being 100 percent non-GMO and over 90 percent of our ingredients are 100 percent organic,” Rosales said. “We also make all of our juice fresh daily and the smoothies. If you order a smoothie, the almond milk that goes in the smoothie is made here from scratch. We make two or three fresh batches every day and we just can’t keep enough on the shelf. The same with the orange juice and the apple juice; we press fresh every day.”
While there are other places in town to get a refreshing smoothie, Rosales said few people know that ingredients, like almond milk, used at other establishments are store-bought and therefore contain preservatives that can be concerning for those wanting to avoid GMOs.
The reason why so few “juice bars” make everything from scratch is clear—not only is the shelf life limited without preservatives but it takes a long time to make fresh juice from scratch. Raw Earth Juicery’s employees take 30 to 45 minutes just to make 15 bottles of fresh cold-pressed juice. To Rosales, the time it takes is well worth it.
“The main reason I did this is to help people,” Rosales said. “I love to help people, and my favorite part about the experience so far is making people happy. People are so happy that finally there is a place to go where they can get healthy, fresh, cold-pressed organic juices and smoothies. And the best part is we’re helping people make healthier choices.”
U-Haul expands in Fresno and Clovis
Three local shops recently signed on as U-Haul neighborhood dealers.
Fat Boys Tires at 4595 E. Shields in Fresno, Parkway Auto Body at 3661 N. Parkway Drive in Fresno, and Car Team Service at 984 W. Shaw in Clovis, all began offering U-Haul trucks, towing equipment and support rental items at the end of 2016.
U-Haul representative Paige Brown said the area expansion in do-it-yourself moving and self-storage will better meet the demands in Fresno County.
In addition to better serving its customers, Brown said U-Haul and its partners are striving to benefit the environment through sustainability initiatives like truck sharing.
“Every U-Haul truck placed in a community helps keep 19 personally owned large-capacity vehicles, pickups, SUVs and vans off the road,” Brown said. “Fewer vehicles mean less traffic congestion, less pollution, less fuel burned and cleaner air.”