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Spotlight on Brooklyn's SyKo: Syrian & Korean Counter Culture



On the southwestern tip of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, in the neighborhood of Windsor Terrace, sits a grab-and-go counter service spot called SyKo, where half the menu is Korean food and the other half is Syrian. Not a fusion restaurant per se, SyKo brings the best of two worlds together under one roof, with Syrian and Korean concepts living side-by-side on either side of the menu and the customer-facing counter.


SyKo is the culmination of two families, two flavors, and two cultures from opposite sides of the world coming together to create one friendly little haunt with major neighborhood vibes. A one-of-a-kind tasty creation, this fast-casual Park Slope eatery, is the brainchild of partners James Kim, Rosette Khoury, and head chef Mazen Khoury with a sweet back story to match the restaurant’s flavor.



In 2013, siblings Mazen and Rosette Khoury moved from Syria to Brooklyn with their family to start a new life in America. Later that year, Rosette met and married James Kim, a Korean-American Brooklyn native.


A graduate of Emma’s Torch, a nonprofit organization that empowers refugees through culinary education and job placement in the food industry, Rosette became instantly enamored with Korean food. Rosette’s brother Mazen, an acclaimed Middle Eastern chef in his own right, shared his sister’s passion for the culinary arts, a combination that would catapult the team onto the competitive NYC food stage.


One evening, as the three were in the kitchen making homemade Korean barbecue, folding lettuce leaves around bulgogi and rice, Mazen had an epiphany. Realizing that the flavors of Korean barbeque and Syrian cuisine complement each other perfectly, he shared his idea with James and Rosette. A concept never before united as a culinary combo, the trio’s collective wheels did some turning and brains did some storming, eventually coming up with the name SyKo, standing for a union of Syrian and Korean food and cultures—and the eventual name of the family brand.



Opening in July 2022, the SyKo concept has been a huge hit with the mixed cultural clientele of Windsor Terrace. And because James Kim is a neighborhood native, the locals couldn't be happier than seeing a friendly face behind the counter on opening day.


A self-proclaimed latch-key kid, “I grew up in the neighborhood, so most of the SyKo clientele are folks that I’ve known all my life.” James offered, “I started the business while I was managing my parent’s grocery store,” he added.


Over three years, the entrepreneur-in-the-making sold containers of his creations like Baba Ghanoush, Muhammara, and Labneh and saved every penny with a dream of starting his own business one day.


“I would create dips and sell them to customers to see which ones they liked the most.” he continued, “it was a great way to test the product.”


“Because my parents worked so much at the family business, I learned how to cook at an early age,” James added, hence his passion for creating delicious food was in his DNA. “But I never expected to marry into another family and culture that melded so perfectly with mine.”


The restaurants weekly handful of specials is split between two menus with Korean selections like Tofu Kimchi, Chicken, Beef and Tofu Bulgogi, and Bibimbap and the Labneh Sandwich, Shish Taouk, and the Sujok Sandwich on the Syrian side.


A commuter’s dream, much of SyKo’s selections —like the lamb sandwich— hold up well in transit. In the spirit of James’ original dip offerings, guests can sample containers of prepared spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and kimchee and then build their own rice or ramen bowls and head over to Prospect Park for a picnic or summer concert.



Though most of the restaurant’s business comes from take-out and delivery (“a 50-50 split,” according to James) there are a few counter seats inside the restaurant facing the sidewalk.

The menu is jamm-packed with Syrian-inspired dishes like the Falafel Sandwich, Shish Taouk Platter, Labneh Sandwich, Baba Ghanoush, and Fried Cauliflower with flaky Baklava and warm Hotteok for dessert. For breakfast, customers love the phyllo-cheese roll.


The food here is really good, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this place starts to accrue long lines. We highly recommend the Spam sandwich, a perfect square of rice, nori, Spam, and omelet. It’s only available on weekends, so prepare accordingly.


On the Korean side, customers rave about the Bibimbap, Beef Bulgogi, Kimchi, and the evocatively and accurately named Fatboy, a sandwich made from thick, crisp-edged Korean-style scallion pancake with a mochi-like texture, layered with sticky white rice, romaine lettuce, crunchy batons of danmuji, and a choice of protein.


Other fan faves include the Muhammara, Sujok Sandwich, 3 types of Kimbap, Chicken Kebab Sandwich, Korean Home Fries, and Chicken and Beef Shawarma. For dessert, there’s Hand Dipped Stuffed Dates, Date Energy Balls, Maamoul, Hotteok, Rice Pudding, and Baklava.



Since opening in summer 2022, the separate but equal menu has been a huge success, but recently, Chef Mazen, who devised the original menu, began experimenting with combining elements of each cuisine, and creating a third menu—a fusion of Syrian and Korean specialties. (coming soon!)


“We do our experimenting every weekend for the brunch crowd,” James shared. “It lets us test new items and see how popular they are before putting them on the menu permanently. And the fusion dishes have been doing really well.”


A large weekend brunch special menu with items like SYKO Shawarma Pizza, Bulgogi Egg & Cheese, and Tuna Kimbap surprises customers every Saturday and Sunday with different and unique dishes prepared by Chef Mazen.


With such a large portion of the business coming from delivery and crowds of hungry customers coming in for take-out, we asked James how he manages to keep so many balls in the air. “We love working with Sauce for our delivery business. They take care of everything, freeing up my time to be in the restaurant helping customers.” James shared. “And because it also saves us money on commission, we entice customers to order directly from our website.”


Signs displaying the restaurant’s QR code that links directly to their online menu are strategically placed around the restaurant and customers are encouraged to take a snapshot of the code for future delivery orders. The code is also shared on flyers inserted into the customer’s take-out and delivery packages and all over social media. “The QR code just makes it so easy for customers—they don’t have to deal with apps.’



A mural depicting Manhattan street signs with the old Little Syria and the still present Koreatown hovers over the refrigerated drink case. A representation of the two cultures — and families— coming together to live the American dream. Small plaques explaining the way each group of immigrants first arrived in the US in the 1880s are also on display.

As with many successful neighborhood restaurants, SyKo is a family business run by a family. A hands-on team, guests can always count on seeing Rosette and James at the counter, Mazen in the kitchen, and the vibe of a restaurant that’s been around for decades. That’s what gives SyKo, with a counter culture all its own, its neighborhood charm and keeps customers coming back.


126 Windsor Place

Brooklyn, NY 11215

929-424-0423

brooklynsyko@gmail.com


Hours

Tuesday - Sunday, 11 am - 9 pm

​Saturday and Sunday 11am - 2:30 serving Weekend Brunch Specials


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By Eileen Strauss

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