Food News

Daikon Banh Mi Shop Plans Re-Entry Into the Denver Market

Daikon's newest location opened at the end of 2020 on Boulder's Pearl Street.
Daikon's newest location opened at the end of 2020 on Boulder's Pearl Street. Courtesy of Daikon
Daikon Banh Mi Shop opened its streamlined Vietnamese-style sandwich shop in 2018 at 211 East Seventh Avenue, part of a wave of casual eateries that came to the Governor's Park neighborhood during that time period. But after adding a Boulder outpost, Daikon's owners, brothers Rob and Lon McGowan (Lon also founded Alpine Modern in Boulder), closed the original banh mi shop as pandemic restrictions began to shut down dining rooms.

The timing of the Boulder opening, at 1805 29th Street, wasn't great, either; the late-2019 launch gave Daikon only a few months to build a customer base before the pandemic hit. But the sandwiches and bowls proved popular, says the company's creative director, Jim Heekin, and takeout business kept the momentum going until the McGowans launched a second Boulder shop at 919 Pearl Street. "With each new iteration, with each new store, the concept evolves a little," Heekin says.

And with firm footing in Boulder, Daikon is ready to re-enter the Denver market. The Governor's Park location is expected to reopen in about two months, and Heekin says the company plans to add one or two other Denver locations in the next year, though exact locations haven't been nailed down.

Heekin says that keeping things simple has been one of the keys to growth, especially in an unprecedented year, and making changes to improve the menu and customer experience have also been important. One of the most noticeable changes is the gradual disappearance of Pickles the gorilla, Daikon's original mascot. Instead you'll see a shaggy, one-eyed beast that Heekin calls the Banh-ster.

"This brand is very irreverent," he notes. "We have a small team, and we just try to get as much bang for our buck as possible."
click to enlarge Daikon's banh mi come in a range of meaty or meatless options. - COURTESY OF DAIKON
Daikon's banh mi come in a range of meaty or meatless options.
Courtesy of Daikon

The Banh-ster stuck after a team creative session, becoming part of a goofy-hip marketing collection that also includes some truly bizarre video shorts, some starring "Bobby Banh" (complete with mustache, mullet and wrap-around Oakleys).

But the real focus has been on the food, starting with banh mi loaded with fresh herbs, pickled veggies, several sauce options and a choice of pork, chicken, beef, salmon, tofu, jackfruit or mushrooms. You can also get your meal configured as a salad or a rice or quinoa bowl. Add-ons such as pâté, boiled eggs and bacon borrow from Vietnamese tradition in some instances and veer wildly from that tradition in others. But the sandwiches manage to preserve the essence of the banh mi through the use of a quality roll and plenty of fresh ingredients.
New menu items include a range of bottled sweet milk teas as well as an "instant" $5 pho that comes to life with the addition of boiling water. Heekin says the broth is flavored with housemade paste that's reduced down from a meatless blend of seasonings, and the kit comes with par-cooked noodles, vegetables and a choice of pork,  beef or tofu. The Mighty Pho, as its called, can be kept refrigerated for about a week, he adds. While the pho doesn't approach the level of flavor of a fresh bowl from your favorite noodle shop, it's an easy and inexpensive meal — especially for Boulder's many college students.

Heekin says that Daikon has also been building its menu with alternative diets in mind, so many of the dishes are vegan (or can easily be made so). That's why the broth base for the Mighty Pho contains no beef, and why jackfruit, mushrooms and tofu were chosen as primary sandwich fillings.

The two Boulder Daikon locations are open daily for lunch and dinner; visit the company's website for menus and details.
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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation