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Daikon Banh Mi Shop opened its streamlined Vietnamese-style sandwich shop at 211 East Seventh Avenue in 2018, part of a wave of casual eateries that came to the Governor’s Park neighborhood during this time. After Daikon’s owners, brothers Rob and Lon McGowan (Lon also founded Alpine Modern in Boulder), added a bouldering outpost, they closed the original Banh Mi store when pandemic restrictions began to close dining rooms.
The timing for the opening of Boulder at 1805 29th Street was also not particularly good. Starting at the end of 2019, Daikon only had a few months to build a customer base before the pandemic. But the sandwiches and bowls were proving to be popular, says the company’s creative director Jim Heekin, and the take-out business kept the momentum going until the McGowans opened a second Boulder store on 919 Pearl Street. “With every new iteration, with every new business, the concept develops a little further,” says Heekin.
Daikon is firmly anchored in Boulder and ready to re-enter the Denver market. The Governor’s Park site is expected to reopen in about two months. According to Heekin, the company plans to add an additional location or two in Denver next year, although the exact locations have not yet been determined.
Keeping things simple, especially in an unprecedented year, was one of the keys to growth, according to Heekin, and making changes to improve the menu and customer experience was also important. One of the most noticeable changes is the gradual disappearance of Pickles the Gorilla, Daikon’s original mascot. Instead, you see a shaggy, one-eyed animal that Heekin calls Banhster.
“This brand is very disrespectful,” he notes. “We have a small team and are just trying to get as much money as possible for our money.”
Daikons Banh Mi comes in a range of meaty or meatless options.
Courtesy of Daikon
The Banh-ster got stuck after a creative team session and became part of a goofy-hip marketing collection that also includes some really bizarre video shorts, some starring “Bobby Banh” (complete with mustache, mullet and encircling Oakleys).
However, the real focus was on the food, starting with Banh Mi, loaded with fresh herbs, pickled vegetables, various sauce options and a choice of pork, chicken, beef, salmon, tofu, jackfruit or mushrooms. You can also have your meal configured as a salad, rice or quinoa bowl. Add-ons like pate, boiled eggs, and bacon borrow from the Vietnamese tradition in some cases and deviate greatly from this tradition in other cases. But the sandwiches manage to preserve the essence of the Banh Mi through the use of a quality bun and lots of fresh ingredients.
New menu items include a range of bottled sweet milk teas as well as an “instant” $ 5 photo brought to life with the addition of boiling water. According to Heekin, the broth is flavored with homemade paste that has been reduced from a meatless blend of spices. The kit includes pre-cooked noodles, vegetables and a choice of pork, beef or tofu. The Mighty Pho, as it’s called, can be kept refrigerated for about a week, he adds. While the photo doesn’t approach the flavor level of a fresh bowl from your favorite noodle shop, it’s an easy and inexpensive meal – especially for Boulders’ many college students.
Heekin says Daikon has also designed its menu with alternative diets in mind, so many of the dishes are vegan (or easy to prepare). For this reason, the broth for the Mighty Pho does not contain beef, and jackfruit, mushrooms, and tofu were chosen as the 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 Westword Food & Drink Editor. He began eating and writing about every restaurant on Federal Boulevard, and continues to cover the diverse international food scene on Metro Denver and the city’s rapidly changing dining landscape. Mark was named an Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association in 2018.