Agenda Lead: Chinatown Fuss…Things aren’t what they seem at Abakus Takeout

By Annamarya Scaccia

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When a hopeful customer walked into Abakus Takeout looking to buy a half-dozen roasted ducks for a party, he didn’t expect to walk out empty-handed.

To be fair, the Chinatown storefront is more than a little deceiving. In the window, right next to a display of multicolored sneakers, hang several golden ducks that look good enough for dinner. And they should — Abakus founders Ky Cao and Jackson Fu overnighted real dead fowl to a California props company to ensure that the plastic models they ordered would look as authentic as those of their restaurant neighbors.

The ducks are just a small detail of the friends’ larger mission to disguise their streetwear clothing boutique as a Chinese takeout joint. The plan started five years ago when Cao’s older brother, Rick (and Abakus’ third partner), approached them with the idea. They liked it enough to spend the next few years working nine-to-fives (Fu as a sales rep in the IT industry and Cao as a QVC production assistant) until they saved up enough to start designing.

Abakus Takeout, which opened in early May, was worth the wait. Complete with a metallic kitchen station, a meat locker-esque dressing room and illuminated wall menu squares, racks of clothing and rows of footwear replace food and cooking utensils. The store’s Web site also plays into the concept and is meticulously designed to resemble a takeout menu.

When Cao and Fu receive food orders (which is fairly frequently), they know they’re on the right track. It’s all part of the game, and foot traffic has steadily increased thanks to word-of-mouth advertising among those looking for something special.

But the point isn’t to confuse newbies; Abakus is ultimately meant to bring something different to Philadelphia, “a whole new flavor,” as Cao puts it, to a scene that lacks the concept stores of NY or L.A. And what better place to meld worlds than Chinatown?

“When you go to Chinatown, it’s just restaurants and bakeries. There’s really no type of Western store,” says Cao, 25, who is half-Chinese, half-Vietnamese. “We’re trying to bring something different, and at the same time, bring a new crowd to Chinatown. ”

This desire to mesh cultures also inspired the boutique’s name. To give it a modern twist, they decided to spell the ancient mathematical device with a “k.” “[Abakus] had a nice ring to it,” says the 24-year-old Fu, who is Chinese. “And it was also representative of math, a universal language.”

From average jock to energetic b-girl, Abakus is for anyone inspired by art, music and streetwear style. The clever presentation doesn’t overshadow a bold selection of graphic Ts, outerwear and denim from both mainstream and underground labels. Currently, Abakus carries a slew of brands from across the globe, including NYC-based label Homeroom, California’s Abstraxx and Trainerspotter from the U.K. Philly is represented by cheeky local T-shirters FMW and basketball-inspired gear by Undrcrwn. Of course, there’s no shortage of sneaks: Retro and limited-edition Nike, Jordan and Reebok kicks line a wall of red, Donkey Kong-inspired angled shelving, and woks of brightly colored laces are scattered throughout.

As for the future, Cao and Fu are looking to develop an in-house brand and open sister shops concentrating on either female or male merchandise. If they do, Fu says they may do another concept store, but it’s not something they’re set on. In other words, take a second look at that new pizzeria.

Abakus Takeout | 227 N. 10th St., 215-351-7978, abakustakeout.com

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