Appetizers
May 13, 2013
Mighty Kong Cafe closes its doors, but the bakery lives on

kong bar.JPGThe well-used meat smoker is still on the fenced-end back patio, but the signs on the windows and the locked front door of the Mighty Kong Cafe on Stockton Boulevard tell the story: "After three years of good food and service, it has come to an end." The official closing date was May 2, but we dropped by this morning anyway and knocked on the door. No answer.

Though the cafe is history, the bakery part of the operation is still turning out organic bran muffins in 23 flavors (including pineapple-coconut, ginger root, and banana-walnut). Order at (916) 231-3631 or www.mightykongmuffins.com.

The Mighty Kong Cafe was owned by King W. Smith, who turned a grass-roots idea into a business.

"Closing was a hard decision, but we weren't making any money," Smith said on the phone. "It turned into a breakfast place and we were down to being open only Thursday through Sunday. So now we'll stick with what we know best - the muffin business."

Will there ever be another cafe?

"I'm not going to say we'll never do it again, but right now the only possibility would be for catering and private parties."

Smith's template of a success story went like this: Before retiring from his state job in 2001, he made up a recipe and began baking bran muffins as a hobby. Eventually, at the urging of family and friends, his muffin mania migrated to an online business, and then moved into brick-and-mortar quarters in 2009.

Meanwhile, his daughter, Katharine Smith, had graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in San Francisco. She and her fiance, fellow graduate Jeremy Meier, joined the business and in 2010 expanded the bakery into a restaurant. Katharine Smith's brother, Lance Smith, took charge of the bakery.

Mind you, this was a neighborhood breakfast-lunch eatery whose kitchen was staffed by two credentialed chefs. They took to smoking pork shoulder, tri-tip, pastrami and pork belly in a hickory-fueled smoker and building sandwiches out of them. House-made onion rings were skinny and crisp. The potato salad was from a family recipe. The sandwich spread was made from roasted garlic and leek.

"All the side dishes, sauces and dressings are from scratch," Katharine Smith told me for a "Counter Culture" review in September 2010. "We make our own brioche for French toast. We pound out chuck for the chicken-fried steak. We make breakfast sausage patties from freshly ground pork shoulder, and we grind chuck for our half-pound burger."

The cafe closed awhile in 2012 for a makeover. When it reopened in July, King Smith had installed an intricately carved 105-year-old bar and back bar made from Cuban and African mahogany (pictured). He also added a happy hour and bar menu, and served beer and wine, and "cocktails" based on rice-infused Asian spirits. Chefs Katharine Smith and Jeremy Meier had moved on. King Smith's son, Lane Smith, and chef Jameel Pongyan took over the kitchen.

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