Woon: Bridging Worlds, One Bowl at a Time
If you visit Woon, it’s likely you will feel at home. Maybe it is in the taste of Mama Fong’s traditional recipes or perhaps in the bright and comfortable atmosphere of the restaurant. The story that Woon tells is authentic, intentional, and a way for owner and founder Keegan Fong to share his upbringing, his family, and his Chinese American heritage with Los Angeles.
Keegan grew up in San Marino and later moved to San Diego where he studied marketing and business administration. You might not have guessed it, but he describes himself as having been “obsessed” with golf and action sports like skateboarding and snowboarding at the time. Naturally, this led him into the industry and he did internships in everything from the DC shoe company to a fashion brand. He even went on to help build the marketing department at Vissla, a largely successful surf brand. While Keegan’s career in the field was promising, he became jaded and knew that he had grown out of action sports.
The solution to his realization lay largely in one thing: family. Growing up, Keegan and his sister always talked about wanting to create something of their own. They both worked in the fashion industry, and he says that “I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to build my own brand. I didn’t know what form it would take, but I always knew that my mom’s cooking would be involved in it. We always dreamt of a noodle shop or something, but it was always a really far fetched goal.” While still in action sports, Keegan would work on a business plan for a noodle shop. It wasn’t anything serious, mainly to keep his passion going and try to “exercise [his] brain.” Unexpectedly, an opportunity presented itself. His uncle who owns an antique business was hosting a craft fair and was looking for food vendors. Keegan, who was still living in San Diego at the time, told him, “ If you give me 30 days and give me the opportunity, I’ll make my mom’s noodles and sell them there.”
The seemingly impossible 30 day countdown began, and in that time Keegan came up with a brand name, logo, and bought all the equipment. He tells us, ““I literally was like figuring out how to do a pop up noodle cart in like 30 days and my family pulled it off. I took 2 vacation days from work, drove up to LA, and we did the event. We sold out really quickly both days and from there everyone just started trying to hire us.” Just like that, Woon was born. Having had such a great time at the craft fair, Keegan and his family began having pop ups once a month in a small Koreatown alleyway behind a friend’s studio. There was music and people would come and have a good time eating Woon’s famous noodles. Keegan and his family were all still working full time, but whenever they had a free weekend he would “take a day off from work, drive up for the weekend, prep, do those pop ups, clean up, and then drive back down to San Diego.”
For three years, the family wasn’t making any money and hosted the pop ups for fun. Keegan wanted to pursue it further, but faltered as he wanted to know more about the industry and was not sure if he could handle it on his own. An old friend came to a Woon pop up, and after raving about Mama Fong’s noodles, offered to go 50-50 on creating a restaurant. They launched into building a business plan, and over the next year they met weekly to figure out how to raise money and find a space in LA. “It was definitely a huge learning curve and a lot of time and effort,” he tells us.
But why food? As someone skilled in marketing, Keegan probably could have entered any industry. Much of it has to do with his upbringing. Keegan grew up in the San Gabriel Valley surrounded by Asians and Asian Americans in an area where Asian food was so accessible. He shared the food with Asian friends and non-Asians alike, having friends over for shabu shabu or enjoying Chinese food at friends’ homes. “I think as a kid I took so much of that for granted. During that time, I didn’t realize what I had until I went to college because I just thought that was how the rest of the world was. I didn’t realize that I lived in the mecca of Chinese food in the United States. That’s kind of where I reached a crossroads within my identity. I was like ‘Oh wow, I really miss that stuff,’ so I found myself driving to the Chinese neighborhoods in San Diego by myself a lot of the time just to eat food and feel comfortable.” As a minority at the University of San Diego, Keegan had no trouble getting along with others and assimilating to the culture. But when it came to food, he often ventured alone to get pho or drove home to eat comfort food. He didn’t think his friends would know what Asian food was, or perhaps they knew and did not understand.
Later while working in the fashion industry, Keegan began to connect the dots. He saw how companies wove and stretched stories in order to sell products, and it was then that he “started to analyze where [he] wanted to be in life.” He says, “I wanted to tell an authentic story, and it naturally progressed to sharing my mom’s food. You don’t have to lie about anything, you’re just presenting something for what it is. And for me, that’s being Asian American and growing up in America with the best food, my mom’s food. And it happens to be Chinese food.” By opening Woon in Los Angeles, Keegan gets to share his childhood favorites with people in a community that never got to experience it before. “They are just outside the SGV bubble and won’t venture into it and I totally understand because I never ventured out of it.” As someone who lived in both worlds, “I think it’s kind of cool that I get to kind of bridge that gap now, or at least I’m trying to.”
Beyond the beautiful aesthetics and inviting interiors of Woon, what strikes us the most about Keegan and Woon is his commitment to authenticity. Everything about the restaurant, from the logo, to the colors, to the furniture and decor is intentional and tells a story. The colors, red and blue, are related to the Feng Shui principles of balancing fire and water. The furniture was inspired by Taiwan and handcrafted by Keegan’s longtime friend, and the Woon aprons were designed by his sister. The traditional Chinese cabinets? Stolen from his mom, Mama Fong. Photos line the walls of Woon, showing Mama Fong’s first Thanksgiving as a family in America and Keegan and his sister as children. Even Woon, meaning bowl in Cantonese, was picked because it sounds Asian but is easy to say- perfect for guests who are just being introduced to Chinese homestyle cooking.
This is why it is especially heartbreaking that of the many changes that came with this year, guests will not be able to enjoy the thoughtfully planned interiors of Woon. Keegan describes the many changes that they underwent as a result of the pandemic. They shifted their focus to takeout and delivery and cut down their hours of service. In a week, he built a website online ordering and focused on concentrating their business into the fewer hours of operation. Mama Fong, who used to cook in the restaurant every day, had to now stay home because of her pre-existing conditions.
While it was challenging, Keegan remains optimistic. “It’s pretty interesting how it’s forced us to make all the changes that I wanted to make.” They started selling in house products like sauces, started online ordering, and even built a takeout window- all of which he had wanted to do but never found the time for. Overall, Keegan is committed to getting through this period and continuing to tell his genuine Asian American narrative. He tells us, “I think what’s really cool is that you learn a lot about yourself as an Asian American. It’s stuff you kind of ignore as you grow up, and then as you get older you start to unravel it. And it’s a lot easier to unravel when you have a restaurant that represents it.”
Location: 2920 W Temple St, Los Angeles, CA 90026
Phone: (213) 674-7434
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