New York City’s increasingly populated landscape for elevated desserts has an art-centric addition with Gong Gan.
Located in Flushing at 37-02 Prince Street, the two-floor Gong Gan morphs between a dessert shop and wine bar. True to its name, which means “a void space,” the intention is to fill in that void with desserts, aesthetics or the atmosphere, according to cofounder Anna Kim, whose career has included a stop at Per Se.
New York City “has a lot of cool places coming up,” she said, adding that coming up with the intricate recipes with the team is the most fun part of the endeavor. “Sometimes I get a little carried away with all of the components. But I am greedy for that. With my experience, I am greedy to make it a little bit better. But it’s great — we get to try new designs, new colors and figure things out,” she said.
Most of the staff has an art background, including cofounder BJ Kim, who also works as a fashion designer. Followed on Instagram as Byzillos, Kim sells his label Quiz direct-to-consumer.
Kim draws color inspiration from the paintings of Johannes Vermeer and Vincent van Gogh for the interiors, and beyond. After cake flavors are decided on, the chef offers input about the final decorations. All in all, the fashion designer’s penchant for shapes, colors and an abstract feel can be found throughout Gong Gan.
Anna Kim explained, “Even when we do our moss for our black cheesecake, we cover it with (edible, but not the CBD kind) moss, so that it looks forest-y. Merengue mushrooms go on top. We color cake and stick that on the sides,” adding that the colors are selected from the prized artists’ paintings.
Gong Gan has given Kim a space to utilize his fashion design experience in different ways, whether that be pulling colors for the interiors too, curving the edges of the café’s counters and walls for a more feminine feel or touching up the floral displays after the florist first arranges them.
Anna Kim detailed the Gong Gan team’s thoughtful approach. Most of the desserts and drinks are very involved, requiring multiple steps even for one ingredient such as a single cream. Corn croissants, for example, require pastry creams, corn-infused milk, corn for a crumble, corn puree base, black cheesecake, lava cake — devil’s food cake with a strawberry jam — and white chocolate ganache.
Anna and BJ Kim, who became friends 16 years ago, are working with June Kwan, whose portfolio includes cafés in Korea. Gong Gan has had a robust welcome after officially opening last month. The team is intent on “definitely keeping up the quality while producing more for the people, who are coming from so far [away] to try our stuff. We don’t want to disappoint them or waste their time,” Anna Kim said.
When the pace of traffic allows, baristas glean ideas for new desserts and crème lattes from patrons and more suggestions from DMs.
Gong Gan’s menu features detailed descriptions of the flavors and the sentiment that the shop is trying to convey with each item. Those who read the fine print will see such “little extras” of poetic references like one to the beautiful sea that surrounds Sado Island off the coast of Japan. Reminiscent of an art collective, each person has their strengths. “We definitely put a lot of thought into everything that we do. One of our baristas is an art theologist so he does a lot of the writing for us. BJ has all of his fashionista stuff and love of art colors.” Anna Kim said.