Business

Koi's Bistro brings varied Asian cuisine to Port Orchard

Koi Bistro owner Tina Nguyen serves some of the restaurant’s specialty dishes. - Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo
Koi Bistro owner Tina Nguyen serves some of the restaurant’s specialty dishes.
— image credit: Justine Frederiksen/Staff Photo

Every small American town has at least one Chinese restaurant, of varying style and quality.

However you feel about Port Orchard’s existing options, the newly opened Koi’s Bistro has expanded the depth and breadth of local Asian food offerings.

“Our food is unique,” said manager Tina Nguyen. “You cannot find it in any other restaurant. And we can compete with anything you can find in Seattle.”

Nguyen acts as hostess and waitress, while her husband Simon is the chef.

This reflects a partnership that has lasted 20 years in several restaurants around the country — the most recent on Bainbridge Island.

Koi’s serves more than 100 authentic Szechuan and Hunan style dishes as well as authentic Vietnamese according to Nguyen.

They also serve a selection of Thai dishes.

The location opened in 2005 as Baja Outpost, with a Mexican flavor.

When that didn’t catch on, it morphed into the Desert Lounge, which sought to become a night spot.

This was proved unsuccessful, which opened the door for Koi’s.

Nguyen was unaware of the history when she opened the restaurant, but she felt success was possible even though others had failed in the same location. They did not change the decor, and left the tropical mural — there since Baja Outpost days — intact.

Also unchanged is the open kitchen layout, where customers can see the cooks at work.

Koi's is owned by Lonnie Reed, who ran Desert Lounge and hired the Nguyens to improve the food offerings. Reed continues to run the bare bar at night along with a DJ on weekends. So on Friday and Saturday customers can come in for dinner at 9 p.m. and stay for the dancing (food is not served after 10).

The Nguyens have an option to buy the business and may do so next year, according to both parties.

Residents of Bainbridge Island remember Simon’s, which opened in the newly constructed Pavilion in 1999.

Five years later the restaurant was sold, to the disappointment of long-time patrons — especially when the Nguyens disappeared without a warning.

“We had signed a non-compete,” she said. “So we couldn’t open anything on Bainbridge for five years. And we couldn’t tell anyone what we were doing.” Simon’s, which is still operating under the same name, has stayed in business under this new management.

Nguyen, in the meantime, started an import/export business which was not successful.

After a few years she became bored. All but one of her kids were grown, and she missed the restaurant business.

When the non-compete clause was set to expire the Nguyens set out to open a new restaurant.

Bainbridge Island, their first choice, had no available locations. It would also cost more to open a business there.

After looking around the county and as far south as Gig Harbor they settled on Port Orchard.

The Desert Lounge location was available, and Nguyen determined the town was ready for some high-quality Asian food.

“I don’t think that Port Orchard has a really good Chinese restaurant,” she said, “so there was an opening. I really like the feel of Port Orchard, and feel this is something the town needs.”

Customers can mix and match the styles or even create their own.

“None of our food is pre-cooked,” she said. “Everything is fresh. I tell my customers that we are their personal chef, and will add ingredients or prepare it any way they want.”

While many of the dishes are familiar, there are several new inventions.

Nine-flavor chicken is one of Simon’s own creations, while Honey Sweet Prawns and Imperial Tofu are among the specialty dishes.

Throughout, Nguyen is a hands-on hostess and strives to address every return customer on first-name terms.

“I love how many unique people come to eat,” she said. “I think my destiny is to work in a restaurant.”

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