Korean meets Chipotle
Growing up, Diana Dexter watched her mother run a successful beauty salon and import business. The two would often talk about opening a restaurant one day.
“We’d evaluate restaurants we visited, discuss how we’d do things, putting together a plan we both knew would never be a reality,” Dexter said. “It was just a daydream, just for fun. After I married, every once in a while I’d casually discuss it with my husband, Paul. We’d both say, ‘Nah, we better not. It’s a bit risky.’”
But that didn’t stop Dexter from imagining how she’d run a restaurant.
Omoni means Mother
“Even after my mother passed away, every time I dined out, I’d think about what I’d change, whether the location was good, the menu was balanced, whether there was good parking and easy entry,” she said.
As a busy mom shuttling kids from school to activities, the former nurse was always looking for something fast, flavorful and healthy – and knew there must be others with the same need.
So, she started to develop her restaurant philosophy.
“I noticed Korean food was making headlines quite regularly. I also noticed the uproar when the Sriracha factory closed,” Dexter said. “I was surprised to see how many people had to have spice in their life.”
In January 2016 and Dexter opened Omoni Fresh Fast Korean Grill in the Meridian Village Plaza. The word Omoni means mother in Korean.
“For my mother, Korean food was a connection to family and traditions - things she wanted to pass on to her kids and share with her friends. Growing up, I watched her proudly sharing her food and customs with those around her,” Dexter said. “For my brothers and me, it’s looking at our plates and reliving our childhood memories of her and still feeling a part of her with us.”
Dexter manages day to day activities, while Paul, a staff physician and researcher at IU Medical Center, takes care of other business decisions. Her brothers, David and John Heald, also help out, along with a dedicated staff.
Omoni has been described as Korean meets Chipotle – a fast-casual approach to dining.
“Those who’ve dined in Korean restaurants know the format is full service, sit down, with a full Korean menu. The decor is traditional and low key,” she said. “However, for my concept, I wanted to appeal to the fast moving everyday crowd. I wanted to offer something they can incorporate into their everyday experience.”
Additionally, Dexter wanted to give customers a chance to sample before ordering.
“Those who haven’t had Korean food before may feel very cautious and hesitant to order a traditional dish. With counter service, people can see what they will order, ask questions, taste samples,” she said. “It’s a more welcoming and less intimidating approach to a new type of food.”
Popular menu items include the Dolsot (Stone Bowl) Bibimbap, the Bulgogi Beef Plate, Chap Chae Noodles and Korean Fusion Tacos. Customers also love the house made Kimchi - a traditional fermented Korean side dish made of vegetables with seasonings. Prices range from $8 - $11 for entrees. The average meal with a drink ranges from $10 - $13.
Bold and Different
When it came to the décor, Dexter wanted to distinguish herself from other Asian restaurants that often use reds, golds and browns.
“Omoni would be bold and different, like the food. So the colors come from food. The Napa cabbage green leaves, the purple of red onion or red cabbage. The dark stone floor, like our darkened, earthy stone bowls,” she said. “For the artwork, I knew early on I wanted unique art based on the Hwa Tu Korean playing cards my mother taught us to play as kids.”
Dexter believes the “nothing fancy, just good common sense” approach has helped Omoni thrive.
“We’ve worked extremely hard, made plenty of mistakes and learned so much. We’ve gotten much support from the community,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of it. Also, we don’t look too far into the future. All we have to do is the best we can do today.”
While she’s received requests to open in other areas, for now she plans to focus on the Carmel location.
“We’ll continue to work on our menu, possibly introduce a few new items, hopefully participate in the summer Devour Indy event,” she said. “However, we aren’t ruling out opening new locations in the future.”
By Chris Bavender