Interior view of a colorful restaurant with a lot of wood and warm tones on the walls and furniture

Stokes Architecture + Design Create a Pop Sensibility at Kpod Restaurant

K-pop references and an overall fun vibe set the scene for chef Peter Serpico’s eclectic Korean-American menu in Philadelphia.

In the notoriously difficult, trend-driven restaurant industry, two decades in business is a strong run. After revisiting POD restaurant, a successful venue operated by entrepreneur Stephen Starr’s STARR Restaurants group in Philadelphia’s University City community,  Stokes Architecture + Design realized that after 20 years, it was time to reimagine the place. Other than the same ownership, 200-capacity layout, and a name that folds in the previous moniker, the new Korean-American restaurant, Kpod, shares little in common with its predecessor.

Lance Saunders, director of design at Philadelphia-based Stokes Architecture + Design, describes the previous interior as “slick and futuristic—very [Stanley] Kubrick looking” thanks to glossy white surfaces and not-so-gentle overhead lighting. “The space needed to be warmed up and not so 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Saunders adds, suggesting that the futuristic vibe was tired. (As Pico Iyer observed, “nothing looks more out of date than yesterday’s version of tomorrow.”) The new restaurant also needed to appeal to the University of Pennsylvania students who live in the neighborhood.

detail image of a restaurant with built in banquettes and colorful abstract murals on the wall
Image of a private booth in a restaurant covered in images of k-pop stars

Chef Peter Serpico, an alum of David Chang’s Momofuku group who went on to establish his own reputation in Philly, came on board to create a constantly changing menu that explores his Korean heritage. Through the design, Saunders and team aimed to support Serpico’s culinary agenda.

Once the new name and concept were identified, the designers took on the tricky task of figuring out how to reference K-pop music in the context of hospitality design without verging on kitsch. “There’s no one thing you can look at and say, ‘That aesthetic is K-pop,'” Saunders explains. After watching hours of music videos, he narrowed in on, “really bold shapes, pops of color, and warmth.”

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an image of a sushi bar and surrounding tables with a colorful mural painted on the wall behind the wall

Extant features including the bar, banquette niches, and the continuous racetrack ceiling were modified and resurfaced. Materials such as wood, rows of ceiling-mounted earth-toned felt flaps, and contrasting tile are playful and warm, and new lighting by L’Observatoire International transforms the ambiance. Hundreds of images of K-pop stars dramatically blanket the larger private banquette niche and is the only overt reference to the musical genre but a reel-to-reel points to the restaurant’s musical inspiration.

Another insider’s element at Kpod is the hot pink split-flap sign made by ­­Oat Foundry–––placed behind the sushi bar, it displays menu items and can be programmed to have an interactive element with customers. Saunders notes it’s the only such sign that exists in this color and serves as a nod to the Philadelphia 30th Street Station, where the iconic board was removed in early 2019. A mural by artist David Guinn is another flourish that complements the lively color scheme.

Chef Serpico’s evolving menus, Kpod’s exuberant atmosphere, and an accessible price point all contribute to the upbeat, celebratory vibe that speaks to the current moment. “After two-and-a-half years of the pandemic, we wanted it to be fun,” Saunders says. “We wanted to make people happy to go out to a restaurant and bring people a little bit of joy.”

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