Phu

Residents can expect to see RiceWorks’ owner Phu Tran working at his restaurant’s new location in Kuna.

RiceWorks, the food-truck-turned-storefront that made its debut in Meridian and has been teasing passersby at its second location in downtown Kuna for months, is inching closer toward a solidified opening day. The space, once occupied by the ever-successful Enrique’s, is expected to reopen as the bustling Asian-fusion restaurant before Kuna Days begins on Aug. 2.

The new location will embody a toned-down, mellow feel that still maintains the original location’s “pop-y” and outgoing atmosphere, according to owner Phu Tran. The new color scheme — black, dark purple and gray — is a departure from Meridian’s gold and black, and will put the restaurant right on the casual side of upscale dining.

Mock-up of the exterior

Mock up of what the new Kuna RiceWorks location is expected to look like. 

The new location will also employ large garage-style windows — which will open up toward the sidewalk — with bar seating beneath them, and has the potential to have outdoor seating under the front awning. Details are still in the works.

Beyond a design shift, the new location will have a full bar, an upgrade from the Meridian location, and plenty of menu changes.

“Kuna really wants something different,” Tran said. “Instead of bringing them a small restaurant, we decided to bring them the new and improved us. We’re doing a full liquor menu, full drinks bar, full sake menu, pho and a larger expanded menu with noodles. We’re really bringing our ‘A’ game.”

According to Tran, the Kuna location will bring with it an estimated 40 to 50 new jobs — a number far bigger than either the Meridian location at The Village or the food truck has ever employed. While the management positions will carry over from Meridian, Tran hopes to have some familiar Kuna faces serving customers.

The restaurant’s arrival and the hiring of local workers should have a positive impact on Kuna’s economy, said Lisa Holland, the city’s economic development director. In much the same way that residents often commute for work, they also tend to take their money elsewhere to spend. New retail and restaurants opening, however, could change that.

“We spent approximately $66 million in retail services, including food and drink, in Kuna, with the 52 retail businesses that were in this study,” Holland said about a study she ran for 2018. “The potential sales for Kuna was $241 million, which means we’re spending about $174 million outside of our community.”

Bringing more restaurants into downtown Kuna could help close the gap between money spent in Kuna and the money spent elsewhere in the Treasure Valley. Further, and perhaps contrary to popular belief, more competition helps other local restaurants, too.

“It might sound counterintuitive that if you have three or four restaurants in downtown, you might think you’re putting too much competition on the other ones, but it actually does the opposite,” Holland said. “When you start giving people more opportunities, it gives them more options and they want to come downtown more often because they’ve got more places to eat.”

According to Enrique Contreras and Ana Paz, the owners of Enrique’s — and Tran’s new landlords — this is true. They’re not afraid of a little competition; in fact, they welcome it. They said the addition of new restaurants helps give people more options, with the added benefit of running money into Kuna’s economy.

“Some customers used to ask me, ‘So, another restaurant, is that more competition?’ But competition is always good,” Contreras said. “The more restaurants in Kuna, the more people stay here in town so they don’t decide to go to Meridian or to Boise.”

This friendly competition is helped by the fact that the owners of the two restaurants have a long history. Tran met Paz and Contreras seven years ago during Kuna Days, and they’ve been amiable ever since. The Enrique’s owners plan to check out RiceWorks’ opening day, and according to Tran, Paz and Contreras have been his role models as he expands into Kuna.

Phu outside

Phu Tran stands outside the second location of his restaurant, RiceWorks, which is expected to open before Kuna Days.

“We want to emulate something more upscale, upbeat and personal, which is what Enrique’s has achieved,” Tran said. “At this point, he’s my idol out here. It was his old location, so whatever he did, he did it right. That’s what we’re going to do — and maybe even better. That’s always the goal, to beat your idol.”

Jordan Erb is the reporter for Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 208-922-3008, or at jerb@idahopress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jordanparkererb