Last month’s unlicensed smoke shop fire was just the start of trouble for its next door neighbor, Danji: now the first Korean restaurant to receive a Michelin star in NYC faces an extended closure as it awaits critical gas and electricity line repairs from ConEd. 

Chef Hooni Kim and Boubacar at Danji
Chef Hooni Kim and General Manager Boubacar Cissoko at Danji. Photo: Naty Caez

The after-effects of a two-alarm April fire originating from Hell’s Kitchen Clouds at 346 W52nd Street (between 8/9th Avenue) linger on at Danji, which has been closed since the blaze and without electricity or gas for cooking its much-loved bulgogi beef sliders and soy-honey chicken wings. Other than a backroom area where firefighters knocked down a door to inspect for water damage, the dining room remains intact, Danji founder Chef Hooni Kim told W42ST as we surveyed the empty tables. “We’re just waiting for ConEd to turn our electricity and gas back on.” 

Chef Kim and the Danji team are renters at 346 W52nd Street and were told by landlords Flatiron Real Estate Advisors that ConEd expected an “at least three to four month” wait for electricity and gas to be restored. “We’ve been asking the landlord every week and we hear back that there are, ‘no updates, no updates,’ which we’ve heard before. We’re at a month and a half now,” said Chef Kim. The restaurant loses between $35,000 and $40,000 in revenue every week they remain closed (which at last count would amount to over $200,000). 

“I’ve heard horror stories,” said Chef Kim, as we discussed the long-term closure of nearby French restaurant Chez Napoleon’s 11-month saga, “The worst I’ve heard was 14 months.” There is constant communication between his business insurance, the building insurance, the landlords and ConEd. “If they told us right now that it was going to be 14 months, that would be it for us. But if it’s really three to four months, we’ll wait. We just don’t know, that’s the worst thing – we just don’t know.” W42ST reached out to Flatiron Real Estate Advisors and ConEd for an updated timeline on the repairs, where a representative from ConEd told us the following: “The building sustained significant damage and will need internal repairs to electric delivery equipment. Those repairs are the responsibility of the customer or other designated party, such as a management company. We have sent letters to the management company, but we got no response and cannot be sure our messages were received.”

The Danji restaurateur – author of acclaimed cookbook My Korea — said loyal Hell’s Kitchen clientele rallied around following the closure, which occurred just a few years out of a long post-pandemic recovery process. “The good thing about this neighborhood is that as long as theaters are open, we’re busy. We don’t have a drastic change between winter, summer, spring, fall. We have lots of regulars who come to us every time they go to the theater.” He added: “After we posted what happened on Instagram, we had a lot of people ask how they can help — we are trying to employ as many people as we can from Danji at our other stores Little Banchan Shop and Meju [both in Queens] and have asked people to support us at those locations. The more support we get, the more we can bring in.” 

While Danji’s landlord is exploring the possibility of adding a temporary electric water heater to restore power to the building’s residential apartments, which have been evacuated since the April 27 fire, it wouldn’t be enough to manage a full commercial kitchen, Chef Kim told us. “I don’t want to rub ConEd the wrong way – we’re all people,” he said. “I hope that people will stop leaving negative reviews on Google just because we’re closed. It feels like our hands are tied and it’s tough for a business owner. I have to wait because it’s not my building, it’s not my fire – we’re just victims of it. The hardest part is feeling like you can’t do anything.” 

sign vacate
Signs outside 346 W52nd Street, where residents had to vacate their homes after the fire. Photo: Naty Caez

While he hopes to be able to throw a celebratory reopening soon, Chef Kim is aware of the toll the fire had taken on all of its tenants. “Whenever I start to get disappointed or frustrated I think of the tenants,” said the Chef. “They have no home to return to right now.” 

Chef Hooni Kim Danji
Chef Hooni Kim hopes to reopen Danji to eager Hell’s Kitchen patrons soon. Photo: Naty Caez

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