BangBang Mongolian Grill is closed in Canton, but one of the partners in the franchise operation plans to reopen the location as an independent restaurant named Soyombo Mongolian Grill.
Opened in February 2012 in the Can Company, the Canton location was the first in Maryland for BangBang, a create-your-own-stir-fry restaurant based in West Des Moines, Iowa. A second Maryland location opened in Bowie in March 2012 and remains open but is also converting from a BangBang into a Soyombo.
The partnership in Maryland's BangBang franchise were led by Shawn Dhillon, a doctor of internal medicine, who said he was attracted to BangBang because of its philosophy of healthful eating.
Soyombo will keep BangBang's stir-fry concept, Dhillon said, but will have more menu items, including pre-made dishes. Soyombo will also be a better fit for the Canton market, Dhillon said.
"We're modifying it for the Canton area," Dhillon said. "We're going to add to it and make it a full-service concept."
Customers liked BangBang's customizable meals, Dhillon said, but had no reason to stay around after their meal. For one thing, there weren't any TVs at BangBang, which meant customers were going elsewhere to watch sports.
"We're keeping the grills, but now we're going to make it more upscale," said Dhillon, who hopes to have Soyombo open in the early fall after renovations to the Can Company space. The Bowie location will be converted, too, Dhillon said.
BangBang is one of several regional Mongolian grill concepts in the marketplace, including the Burnsville, Minn.-based bd's Mongolian Grill, which has 32 locations scattered around the Midwest — and even one in Ulan Bator, Mongolia — and the Missoula, Mont.-based HuHot Mongolian Grill, which was tapped by the industry publication Nation's Restaurant News as one of its 50 "breakout brands" for 2013.
Know your crab meat Launched last Memorial Day weekend, the state's True Blue seafood certification program has increased the roster of participating restaurants from 26 to 150, according to Steve Vilnit of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
The DNR launched the labeling and marketing initiative in 2012 to help encourage restaurants to carry Maryland crab meat.
Not everyone needed encouragement, though. "We're an 80-year-old Baltimore business, so why wouldn't we support a local industry," said Sebastien Trossman, the executive chef at Alonso's, one of the newer restaurants on the True Blue roster.
Trossman said few customers have commented on the certification program, but he was glad to be a part of it. "I grew up in Southern Maryland around the crabbing industry," said Trossman. "I've always been more attracted to Maryland crab meat. It's just a superior product in my mind."
Crab may be king in Maryland, but relatively few restaurants in the state serve Chesapeake crab meat, said Vilnit, the DNR's fisheries marketing director. And there's no law that prevents restaurants that make crab cakes with meat imported from Venezuela or Indonesia from calling them "Maryland crab cakes."
Restaurants that enroll in the True Blue program must periodically submit copies of sales receipts to the state showing that at least 75 percent of the crab they use in a calendar year is either harvested or processed in Maryland.
Certified restaurants can use the state's True Blue logo on their menus and marketing materials. The state's Maryland Seafood website recently added an interactive map to help consumers find participating restaurants and retailers.
Among the other Baltimore restaurants enrolled in the program are Alewife, Gertrude's, Waterfront Kitchen, Wit & Wisdom and Woodberry Kitchen. To see other participating retailers and restaurants, go to marylandseafood.org.
Vilnit said that Maryland crab meat processors have have reported a 17 percent increase in pounds sold since the program launched last year.