Khong River House is buzzing on a chilly Friday night. Waiters add to the clamor, adeptly pronouncing Thai ingredients such as khaep mu (crisp pork rinds) and nam prik num (green chili pepper salsa). Across the dining room, hipsters, bloggers, and socialites cram tightly packed tables. They tweet, Instagram, and rattle on about the spot's fresh egg noodles and startlingly spicy cuisine.
At this South Beach joint, located a few steps from tourist-centric Lincoln Road, a horde of hopeful walk-ins waits by the entrance. The restaurant has been booked for days. They are here for, among other things, technicolor plates of crispy tofu salad -- deep-fried bits of soybean curd glazed with red chili vinegar dressing and tossed alongside cucumbers, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, and roasted crushed peanuts.
The place opened four months ago, but its reputation is already solid in food and media circles. Khong's cocktail program earned accolades from Saveur. It beat José Andrés's the Bazaar and garnered a four-star review from the Miami Herald. It even secured a spot as a James Beard Foundation semifinalist for best new restaurant in the nation.
Khong is the new concept by 50 Eggs Inc., a multifaceted creative team spearheaded by CEO John Kunkel. The red-haired, freckled fellow with an unrelenting entrepreneurial spirit and well-groomed goatee built his company on PR-oriented theories and MBA terminology. Employees mutter words such as brand development and identity design along with elbow grease and shrimp 'n' grits.
Kunkel developed Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, a chain of fast-casual restaurants, and then sold the company to Ruby Tuesday for $24 million in 2012. 50 Eggs builds more than just restaurants. Its roster of marketing clients ranges from Tim McGraw to the Miami Heat and Muhammad Ali.
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