The pandemic was hard on the restaurant industry-many small businesses that just couldn’t weather the storm ended up closing their doors permanently. The owners of KIN restaurant Remi McManus and Kris Komori were facing a similar situation. They had just finished renovations on their location downtown and finished all the new hiring only days before the shutdown. But because of their creativity, ingenuity and devotion to their craft, the restaurant is coming out on top after COVID.
“It felt still a little funny to us at that time,” said Komori, “because we had just finished everything and then all of the sudden we had to lay off the whole staff we just hired. We weren’t even sure about what we were going to do but we decided whatever we thought we were going to do we had to throw out the window and find new ways to keep going.”
Through collaboration and daily meetings with other restaurant owners like Dave Krick of Bittercreek Alehouse, they developed some new ideas and became one of the restaurants at the forefront of COVID navigation. The restaurant partnered with other local businesses to start the nonprofit City of Good, started a KIN at home take-away dinner service and began the piKINic series on the restaurant’s front lawn.
Now, as people become vaccinated, KIN is opening up with even more exciting dining options. The cocktail bar is open and also has a rotating á la carte menu, the main dining room is slated to open by reservation in August and there’s a brunch served every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. People can go to the website, kinboise.com, for more information and to purchase tickets for the piKINic events.
Komori, who is also the head chef, said they come up with new ideas through constant collaboration and a willingness to learn, coupled with intense attention to detail. He and his wife moved from Portland to Boise in 2013. He interviewed at different restaurants but ended up taking a job with Sweet Valley Farms because, he said, it seemed like a very Idaho thing to do. He could learn about the community and foraging but he said it didn’t take long for him to realize it wasn’t for him. “I found I’m just not suited for carrying 50 pound bags of mushrooms all over the mountains,” he said.
He was working at the farmers market and just getting a feel for everything, he said no one really knew he could cook, but he ended up doing a farm to table dinner with around 60 people and it went really well.
Komori has a degree in Biology and had originally planned to go to medical school but he said something just didn’t feel right and a mere few weeks before he was to start he changed plans and went to culinary school instead. He was nervous about it but had the full support of his family. After the first farm to table he was at the farmers market and he said people kept coming up to him and talking about how great the dinner was and that he should check out a new restaurant called State & Lemp.
“So many people told me the same thing I decided to message them,” said Komori. “I rode my bike down the next day and talked to the owners Remi and Jay Henry and I just started working the next day. It was quick.”
He’d done a handful of dinners in the style that State & Lemp did, a prix fixe dinner, and for him it was new and exciting but not foreign. He said the first year was a challenge, when they started the restaurant people said Boise wasn’t ready for that style of upscale dining.
“That was actually really freeing,” said Komori, “it was like, ok, we may fail but we are going to do it on our own terms and do everything exactly the way we wanted it. Just like at KIN we relied on word of mouth and people enjoying the unique experience and the last few years we were always booked in advance.”
As the lease at State & Lemp was expiring McManus and Komori decided they needed to grow. The small restaurant just wasn’t a big enough space to provide for all of the people working there, State & Lemp was a small intimate experience, so they started exploring other spaces.
“We care about the people that work with us,” said Komori. “We want to pay everyone well and be a model and educate so we had to grow, but not a ton. Our model is tight and detail oriented. This location is a lot bigger than what we were looking for but we ended up taking it.”
The landlords of the iconic dining space downtown, that was once Angels, actually reached out to the owners and asked them to be the anchor of the building. The space, that also was the first setting of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, was now neglected and needing some love. So although it was much bigger than what they intended, the McManus and Komori decided to make the move.
The remodel was designed by McManus and local architect Cathey Sewell. The idea was to take the State & Lemp model of small communal dining with some new additions. Komori said they loved that no matter what kind of person you were, at their restaurant you will get the same experience, and that creates a feeling of togetherness. To fill the space, KIN added cocktails and the restaurant is actually a combination of of a cocktail bar with patio and a separate large communal dining area.
Komori said all of the different things the restaurant tried have yielded new and rewarding experiences. For the at-home series, now ended, it forced them to get in front of the camera and interact in a new way with customers and the piKINic series was equally new because it allowed the back of the house to see the customers dining experience.
“In the kitchen you’re hidden away and you can peek out and see diners, but the videos for the at-home stuff reversed that and people were coming in and recognizing us, it was really different and touching,” said Komori. “And the night before the first piKINic we almost decided not to do it but that night my wife said we should because that way we could be a model for 100% zero contact but still deliver an experience. There was so much emotion on the hill that night, we saw people tearing up and relax after about 20 minutes in. You could tell people needed it. That’s what we love, to have people feel good and be happy.”
Few things are more infectious than happiness and KIN is serving that up in abundance. The food contains elements of gastronomy and fusion but it’s also based on the seasons and they use local products as often as possible. The a la carte menu at the cocktail bar rotates, Komori said they plan to have staple offerings like a chip and dip or sprouted salad but those will change based off of ingredient availability. They base the menu off of what the farmers and ranchers have available, not the other way around, and that lends itself to becoming more creative with ingredients. The restaurant rarely repeats dishes.
The brunch on the weekend is run by cook Matt Chmiel, who Komori said is amazing and constantly contributes new ideas to the menu. Pastry chef Michelle Kwak, also creates one-of-a-kind desserts that often seem too pretty to eat, until you take a bite. Their attention to detail may often be overlooked because the overall presentation comes together so beautifully. It’s art on a plate and on your palette.
When the main dining room opens the restaurant plans on bringing back the shared communal experience from State & Lemp that made them so popular. Reserved dinners will begin a few nights a week. It’s a seven to nine course meal with drink pairing that takes about two and a half hours.
The addition of cocktails is another part of the KIN experience, head bartender John Straubhar also creates seasonal drinks although some are so tasty they’ve become staples. The Moron, Welsh for carrot, is gin, carrot juice and other complementary flavors. It’s refreshing but savory and has an interesting backstory.
The Fiddlers Green Farm had a bunch of carrots that had been overrun by mites that cause damage to the outer part of the vegetable. The farm was going to have to cut their losses but KIN decided to come in, harvest the carrots themselves and peel off the unusable part. They also paid the farm. It’s an example of how the manifesto of the restaurant bleeds into everyway that it operates, a communal experience for both the customer and the business.
“People ask how we come up with our ideas,” said Komori, “we just habitually create and fail and keep trying and that’s part of the process. When you constantly create it becomes part of what you are and we all work together. Remi says that I once said, ‘we take what we do seriously but we don’t take ourselves serious at all.’ We’re laid back but we care a lot about what we do and our community.”