In 2010, Birk Stefan Grudem and Christina Nguyen launched Hola Arepa — a masa sandwich-focused food truck that grew into a brick-and-mortar location three years ago.
Now, they’re expanding their street food empire.
Hai Hai (haihaimpls.com), the duo’s latest project, will celebrate Southeast Asian street food when it opens this fall in a former strip club — the 22nd Avenue Station at 2121 University Av. NE. in Minneapolis.
“It’s just a really fun way to eat, and it’s how we love to eat,” Nguyen, the chef at both restaurants, said of the street-food concept. “We’re going to have a lot of small dishes so people can try a lot of things.”
Look for plates not found at the long-standing Thai and Vietnamese haunts along Eat Street and beyond.
Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese heritage, will be re-creating a turmeric dill fish dish she recently learned was a favorite of her grandfather’s, as well as the sugar cane shrimp her grandmother used to make for the holidays. There also will be a version of one of the best bites the two recently had in Ho Chi Minh City: a crispy coconut rice crêpe filled with shrimp, pork belly and bean sprouts, wrapped in lettuce and herbs and dipped in fish sauce.
“I think it’s the embodiment of everything Vietnamese street food is,” Grudem said. “There’s a crispy element, but it’s also really, really fresh.”
His cocktail program will incorporate the likes of jackfruit, lychee and fresh sugar cane juice, and maintain a similar fresh, tropical vibe as Hola’s offerings do.
At Hai Hai (which means “two two,” a play on the former strip club’s “Double Deuce” nickname), Grudem and Nguyen hope to re-create the hidden alleyway food oases that inspired them.
That means lots of tropical plants, authentic Vietnamese decor and dozens of tiny plastic chairs — to go along with traditional low-set tables — that the two brought back from Asia a couple of months ago.
“It forces you to lean in to the table and get really intimate,” Grudem said. “We want to help transport people to the streets of Southeast Asia.”