Kyo-Jean Simon Chung has worn a few hats over the course of his hospitality career. These days many Calgarians may recognize him as the force behind Sugar Water, a “pop-up events” business that focuses on bar catering at private and public events, but he’s also done work in everything from coffee trading to mushroom cultivation. Creative, collaborative and infectiously friendly, Chung embodies the new wave of food industry professionals thinking beyond traditional bricks and mortar restaurants.
While Chung may be making his mark in the trendy space of pop-ups and collaborations, his roots in the world of food and beverage go back to something much simpler. Chung’s young life was spent in and around his parent’s You and I Café and Bakery, a popular little coffee spot on the Plus-15 level of the Shell Centre. Founded in 1978, You and I is a favourite of many downtown office workers, not only for the convenience of its location and corporate catering services, but because of the warmth of the Chung family and the quality of its coffee and baked goods.
When Chung’s parents Agnes and Spencer decided to retire this spring they asked their son to sell the café for them — which proved to be impossible once COVID-19 hit. After some soul searching, Chung decided to buy the cafe himself and has managed to not only keep his parents’ legacy going but to use it to keep Sugar Water thriving during the pandemic.
“It occurred to me that I could use both businesses to diversify what I do,” Chung says. “While helping my family, I could also help myself by taking on the café.”
With all of Sugar Water’s events cancelled and a relatively quiet commercial kitchen at his disposal, Chung started with cocktail kits that he put together and sold through the Vine Arts liquor stores. Then, this spring Chung partnered with friends chef Alec Fraser and beverage expert Andrew Dunphy to create Dash and Dine, a “quarantine dinner party pop-up.” Every week, Chung and his crew drive throughout the city to deliver five-course meals ($35 per person) that require a bit of extra heating and preparation at home. Participants can purchase additional wine or cocktail pairings and either enjoy the food on their own or follow along on an Instagram Live where Chung and Co. put together the food and provide an element of socialization. The concept has been so popular that the team has expanded from just doing Sunday night dinners to doing Saturdays as well and have plans to keep the dinners going at least through the rest of the summer.
As for the cafe itself, Chung and his sister Eliza, who is a co-owner and the shop’s pastry chef, have kept it open throughout the pandemic, starting with takeout, largely to serve its decades-long regulars. Even though the Shell Centre has been quiet over the past three months, they’ve opened the cafe for counter service in the mornings to make sure building staff and the odd office worker dropping in have a place to grab a coffee and a muffin. In the longer term, Chung is planning on a careful balance of continuing to provide regulars with all the things they’ve loved about the cafe over the years, along with some changes that reflect his own philosophies and interests.
“These mom and pop shops are such an important part of any city’s culture,” he says. “The cafe has always been a place where we know everyone’s name and everyone’s order. Parents want their kids to go to school so they can do better, but I realized that running the cafe is a great life and I can still make it my own. But that doesn’t stop me from being ambitious and wanting the flexibility to try new things.”
You and I Café and Bakery is located on the second floor of the Shell Centre at 400 4th Ave. S.W. For more information or to order takeout, including the Dash and Dine meals, visit youandIcafe.com.
There has been a lot of restaurant news in the last few weeks, with new openings that were delayed due to the COVID-19 closures as well as a few inevitable closures. Last week Thank You Hospitality announced it would be shuttering its Two Penny restaurant on 1st Street S.W. to make way for a new A1 Bodega and Café, scheduled to open later this summer. The new concept will be operated by the same team that oversaw Two Penny and will feature a restaurant as well as a small grocery store. The downstairs Tea House bar will also close, with news of what will replace it not yet revealed. Two Penny gift cards will be honoured at A1 once it’s open.
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @elizaboothy or Instagram at @elizabooth.