Deja Food Group's four-year-old, pan-Asian restaurant, Sujeo, is going from full-service to fast-casual later this month.
Sujeo, opened by Madison Chef Tory Miller in August 2014 at East Washington Avenue and Livingston Street, will close Saturday and reopen on Sept. 24.
It's not that the restaurant wasn't working, Miller said. The problem was that when it would get a surge of customers, or was suddenly busier than normal, like when there was a concert or another event at Breese Stevens Stadium a block away, Sujeo couldn’t perform in the way he wanted.
"The kitchen and the front of the house would be overwhelmed. I also have never felt that the neighborhood was developing the way we had hoped back in 2014 when we opened," he said. "Four long years of waiting for development has taken its toll a bit."
But with the 2,500-capacity concert venue, The Sylvee, opening across the street on East Washington Avenue in a couple of weeks, Miller said he and his partners felt like it was a perfect time to "refresh and re-envision."
"I’m excited to create a restaurant that truly reflects who I am as a person and a chef -- we’ve done many menu changes, but have never fully revamped our service or vibe in the front-of-house," he said.
The restaurant's owners will make some modifications to the restaurant, including lowering the wall in the middle of the dining room. That will open the space up instead of dividing it, Miller said. He and his partners are also adding a TV that will display the menu.
"We are also working with two local artists to create a mural on the entire wall of the dining room. Kind of Asian, street, graffiti vibe," he said.
The menu will also feature some substantial changes.
"I think when we opened I was lost in a search for authenticity," Miller said, noting that many restaurateurs, when opening an ethnic-food restaurant, are worried about whether the food is authentic.
But he and Sujeo's executive sous chef, Jamie Hoang, have discovered that it's when they are at their best, having the most fun, and making the best food, that they are authentic to themselves.
"I am a Korean-born, Wisconsin-raised, adopted, Asian-American. I am almost by definition, not authentically anything," Miller said. "So by embracing who I am, and getting back to the food I want to eat, I think the menu is going to reflect that."
Full bar service will continue, as well as takeout, but delivery will be suspended for now, he said. Sujeo, 10 N. Livingston St., will continue to serve lunch.
The prices will stay mostly the same because the restaurant will continue its practice of buying local meat and produce as is the case at Miller's three other high-profile Madison restaurants: L'Etoile, Graze and Estrellon.
The new Sujeo is not Miller's first experience running a counter-service restaurant. He had the estwhile Cafe Soleil, on the first floor of the former L'Etoile location on the Capitol Square. But no one used the term "fast-casual" when that restaurant opened in 2006, Miller said.
While many restaurants in Madison have been struggling to hire and retain employees in recent years due to a tight labor market, finding great staff has never been an issue for Sujeo, Miller said.
"I am hopeful that counter service will help us in the labor cost area, but the change is mostly about providing the best, most cohesive experience for our customers," he said.