At Simpy Shabu, customers have everything needed for dinner: a spoon, plate, bowl, napkin and a personal ladle and induction stovetop.
This is the table setting for the restaurant featuring Taiwanese shabu, also known as hotpot, which recently had its grand opening. Located on Cherry Street in Chinatown, it serves dinner on weekdays and both lunch and dinner on weekends.
Weekends, which have been busiest for owners Dennis and Kate Tuan, have had people waiting up to an hour and a half to eat at the restaurant.
Coming from a finance and banking background with no culinary education, Dennis Tuan said he was taken aback by the initial reaction during the business’ first two weeks.
“It was definitely surprising and enlightening to see just the pent-up demand for hotpot in Philadelphia,” Dennis Tuan said.
Since many Philadelphians may not be familiar with shabu, Dennis Tuan described the food as “Asian-style fondue.” Customers are given a small pot of hot broth with a variety of raw vegetables, meats and seafood. Customers then use their utensils to put the food into the hot broth so it cooks and gains flavor. Once fully cooked, they can take their food out and experiment it with a variety of dipping sauces.
Dennis Tuan said he and his wife enjoyed shabu while they were in Boston and New York, and even more so when he stayed in Taiwan for six months to work with his brother on a startup restaurant there. He said they were surprised they couldn’t find the dish anywhere upon moving to Philly three years ago.
Dennis Tuan enjoyed the food so much that he felt he had to change that. In April 2013, he decided to open a shabu restaurant.
“We came here and there was no place during the wintertime [to eat it] when it was cold, and we [wanted] to grab a bite to eat, so we’d have to make it at home,” Dennis Tuan said. “When we were [in Taiwan], I found myself eating shabu all the time, and so it was kind of the inspiration for why I wanted to bring it to Philly.”
Simply Shabu provides a distinctive restaurant experience because of its ingredients, broths or sauce bar. Waiters and waitresses are there to help those who are unfamiliar with hotpot.
The restaurant features vegetable, chicken and spicy broth. For the indecisive, Jessica Yoon, a waitress, said customers can try up to two kinds with a divided pot. After the broth is selected, customers can choose from a slew of raw meats, vegetables and seafood, all prepared made-to-order by the staff. Choices vary from lamb or taro root, to a new addition to the menu – Dungeness crab.
Tiffany Do said she believes the different sauces, such as chili oil or barbecue sauce, are what really add to the taste.
“You can usually get all the ingredients anywhere, but the sauces make it different,” Do said.
The restaurant aims to keep ingredients local and healthy by getting all-natural beef, pork and lamb from Lancaster, Pa., and by including gluten-free items on the menu.
The induction-style cooktops may seem a bit dangerous and intimidating to first-timers. However, Dennis Tuan said he chose electric tops that are easy to use and can only be turned on when stainless steel touches the surface, which prevents accidents.
Although the restaurant is only a few weeks old, Dennis Tuan said he plans to adjust the menu to the customers’ suggestions by adding desserts and appetizers in the near future.
“We’re trying to basically make it more engaging to the customers who say, ‘Hey, I wouldn’t mind seeing his on the menu,’ so we’ve been adding things slowly,” Dennis Tuan said.
Albert Hong can be reached at email@example.com.