Honga’s changes hands

New owner of Honga’s Lotus Petal Erich Owen stands in the restaurant’s upstairs bar on Thursday. Honga Im served up her noodle bowls and mojitos for 26 years at the Telluride pan-Asian restaurant. Owne’s plan is to expand the sushi bar for summer, with renovations and a renaming this fall. [Photo by Heather Sackett]

 

When Honga Im first moved to Telluride in 1983, armed with a fine arts degree, she never thought she would be running a restaurant.

Fast-forward three decades and Honga’s Lotus Petal is one of the town’s long-standing favorite restaurants on Colorado Avenue. From a modest beginning as a food cart vendor, for 26 years Im has been churning out sushi rolls, pot stickers, noodle bowls and minty mojitos at her restaurant. But now, she says, that chapter of her life has come to a close. Im has sold the restaurant to Telluride chef Erich Owen and local investment group Telluride Investments. 

“I moved to Ridgway last year and driving back and forth was kind of hard,” Im said. “I’ve been doing it for a long time and I felt like I needed to finish a chapter in my life and start something new.”

Owen was the executive chef for six years at the Sheridan Chop House and before that was the corporate executive chef for Koi restaurants, a high-end Japanese chain with locations in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Bangkok and Dubai. He also owned his own restaurant for a time, E.O.’s Chop House, in Durango. 

“I’ve always wanted to own again, but now I’m fueled up with better experience and a better reputation and I know this town and what to expect,” Owen said. “I have that confidence… I feel like I’m in my prime.”

For the summer, Owen will keep things much the same as they have been at Honga’s, with the exception of bringing back the sushi bar in full force. But during the fall off-season, the restaurant will see an inside renovation and re-branding with a name change. Owen would like his new restaurant to have a casual fine dining atmosphere but also a section of the menu for diners who want to go all-out — think Kobe steaks, bottles of fine wine and sake. 

He also hopes to turn the downstairs bar into the hip, new happy hour and après ski hangout and will jumpstart that by featuring nightly live music from local bands next week during the run-up to Bluegrass. DJ Harry, Trico, the DeLand Garcia Band and Niceness will play donation-based shows, starting at 10 p.m. 

Although Owen’s main areas of expertise are French, Japanese and steak house cuisine, he doesn’t like to pigeonhole his cooking. He likes to use the best ingredients that he can find at the time — a perfectly ripe peach, a fresh, organic, whole chicken — and get creative. He says the new place will be a unique experience for Telluride diners.

“It seems like the community is supporting us and what we are doing,” Owen said. “It’s really exciting to have a vision and then to see it through.”

Im isn’t sure what’s next for her, although it will involve spending time with her 8- and 13-year-old kids. After running Honga’s for more than half her life, she said it’s time to step back, take a breath and clear her head for whatever comes next. But, she said, there are parts of the business she will miss. Like those nights where the kitchen is turning out excellent food, the front of house staff is on point, the customers are happy, everything is going smoothly and the restaurant is humming along in perfect harmony. Some might call it a flow state.

“Telluride has been amazing and really supported me and everything I’ve done,” Im said. “It’s an amazing thing to be able to be a part of.”