Tag Archives: koreatown

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Tech Startups Find a Home in Koreatown’s Kolabs

Pictured above: The team behind RushOrder, led by CEO Eric Kim, standing at right. (Photo by Narith Ta)

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

From trendy cafes and late night galbi houses to the family-owned liquor and convenience stores and slew of professional offices offering banking, medical or legal services, the spirit of entrepreneurship is palpable on every boulevard and street corner in Koreatown, Los Angeles.

One not-so-obvious indicator, however, is the growing wave of tech startups led by a new generation of Korean American entrepreneurs. Within L.A.’s dynamic startup scene, this subset is forming a regional tech-trinity that includes Silicon Valley and Seoul. And here, Koreans on both sides of the Pacific have come to find themselves in the middle of the action.

“There is a coalescing of Korean American entrepreneurs and investors,” says Michael Yang, a longtime technology entrepreneur based in L.A. “We’re becoming a network. It’s centered in Koreatown, and it’s generating a lot of energy. A lot of Korean American entrepreneurs are coming here looking for capital, advice and resources to build on their ideas.”

Kolabs 3A view of the Kolabs office space. (Photo by Narith Ta)

One current draw may be Kolabs, a shared workspace and business incubator-accelerator aimed toward nurturing the growth of South Korean and Korean American startups. Opened in March by L.A.-based venture capital firms Strong Ventures and BAM Ventures, the facility is home to RushOrder, a food delivery app that’s cornering the Koreatown restaurant market; 8/Omakase, a made-to-measure online clothing service for style-conscious men; and SnackFever, an online delivery service dispatching packages of tasty Korean snacks; plus other companies expected to join this summer.

The idea for such a facility sprung after Richard Jun, BAM Ventures’ cofounder, reached out late last year to John Nahm, co-founder and managing director at Strong Ventures, about opening a “cool, co-working space” in Koreatown. Its name is derived from an amalgamation of “Korea,” “L.A.,” “BAM” and “Strong,” and, according to Nahm, is also shorthand for “collaboration laboratories.”

“Where things get cooked,” Nahm quips, from Kolabs’ office, located across the street from the trendy Line Hotel in Mid-Wilshire Koreatown. Nahm and Jun, who have backgrounds in corporate finance, are looking to invest not only their capital but provide young entrepreneurs guidance in an open environment.

Kihong Bae & John NahmStrong Ventures co-founders Kihong Bae (left) and John Nahm. (Photo by Narith Ta)
 Jo Jang & David from SnackFeverSnackFever’s Jo Jang (left) and David Chung.

“This is the second or third wave of entrepreneurship,” says Nahm, referring to Korean Americans. “The first immigrants were the ones who really struggled, opening markets, liquor stores, dry cleaners … all kinds of hard labor. The second wave is the lawyers, doctors—all […] reaping from their parents’ labor.

“The second generation was a bit more stability seeking; the third wave is more entrepreneurial—back to sort of what their parents did, but with new media and technology,” he adds.

Cul-Kolabs-JJ15-JohnNahm“This is the second or third wave of entrepreneurship,” says Nahm. (Photo by Narith Ta)

The first thing visitors notice about Kolabs’ nearly 5,000 square-foot space is the lack of walls, as the individual companies don’t have separate offices. They share the entire suite, including the conference area, media studio and lounge commons (complete with a ping pong table), all within working and shouting distance of one another.

While Kolabs is still in its infancy, it shares a similar mission and spirit with other incubators: to provide an open space for startups to break into the ultra-competitive tech industry—but with an emphasis on Korean and Korean American entrepreneurs, in the most developed and concerted effort of its kind outside Korea.

The ability to solicit ideas and exchange ideas has been a valuable asset of Kolabs, says Eric Kim, CEO of RushOrder. The young entrepreneur points to his relationship with Yang, who isn’t formally affiliated with the facility but is using the space as an office while exploring options for his next project.

“His reputation precedes him,” Kim says, of Yang, whose first startup, an e-commerce price comparison shopping website called mySimon, was acquired by CNET for $700 million just two years after launching in 1998. “He’s a serious player in the startup world, and the ability to bounce ideas off him is great. I could just go over and talk to him, and sometimes he’ll just come to us.”

Cul-Kolabs-JJ15-ImpactA view of the Kolabs office space from the lounge area. (Photo by Narith Ta)

This fluid workspace culture is evident from employees’ willingness to trade tips—or just lighthearted moments. At one point during KoreAm’s visit, 8/Omakase co-founder Elbert Song chatted with the staff of SnackFever about shipping options he uses.

“Unless you’re super lucky and your startup is on fire right out of the gate and you have 10, 20 people working with you, one of the things you lose is that camaraderie of an office space,” Song says. “There has to be interaction. There has to be that banter, … water cooler talk. All that stuff is super important.

“For most of us, [we] may be pretty talented, but you have to be put in the right environment in order to succeed,” he adds.

The Kolabs environment takes cues and lessons from both Korean and Western business culture—in particular, the close sense of community and ‘family feeling’ among co-workers. The hierarchical chaebol corporate culture, though, is replaced by one that’s very horizontal.

Cul-Kolabs-JJ15-ElbertSong8/Omakase co-founder Elbert Song (Photo by Narith Ta)

“It’s very informal, everybody is young and the youngest guy’s opinion is heard,” Nahm describes. “Whereas in traditional Korean corporations, the young guy just has to shut up and do whatever the manager says. In that regard, generationally, it’s very different—horizontal, open and fluid. We move fast.”

For South Korean startups, it doesn’t hurt to have the Korean government pouring money into the country’s flourishing tech startup scene. The companies that become successful enough to cast their gaze globally will eye Silicon Valley, according to Nahm. But they often come away discouraged by how competitive it is, he says.

“The venture capitalists and tech players, they’ll be telling Korean companies, ‘Stop coming,’ Nahm says. “‘[If] you come here, you’ll just get decimated. Just do well in Korea,’ they say. ‘If you want to go global, maybe think of China, Southeast Asia.’”

The attitude is different in Los Angeles, whose Koreatown base provides an automatic sense of familiarity and cultural support, according to Nahm. “Even among the non-tech community, they’re behind [Korean entrepreneurs] because they want to see our own succeeding and prospering,” he says. “I think that support is even stronger here than in Korea.”

“They come here to L.A. [where they hear] a lot of success stories,” Nahm adds, of these entrepreneurs. “So the atmosphere [they expect] is, ‘Come here, we’ll support you and try to help. Even if we fail, let’s at least try together.’”

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This article was published in the June/July 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribetoday! To purchase a single issue copy of the June/July issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).


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‘Kings of Ktown’ Launches Crowdfunding Campaign

 

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Korean American comedians Danny Cho, Walter Hong and Paul “PK” Kim have launched a crowdfunding campaign to film “Kings of Ktown,” a stand-up comedy special, at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood on July 2.

According to its Fanbacked page, the “Kings of Ktown” is a one-hour comedy special, in which the three comedians will share their views on culture, race, family and the L.A. K-town lifestyle. The live show will be hosted by local rapper Parker, formerly known as Dumbfoundead, and filmed by Ktown Cowboys director Daniel “DPD” Park.

Once the comedy special is filmed and edited, the comic trio plans to distribute it through digital platforms, such as Netflix, Vimeo, Hulu and iTunes.

Best known for co-starring and writing the South by Southwest (SXSW) film Ktown Cowboys, Cho has been a full-time professional comedian and actor since quitting his day job as a business consultant in 2007. His past credits include Mad TV, Parks and Recreation and a slew of commercials.

PK is the founder of Kollaboration, a nonprofit talent show that showcases Asian American artists, and co-founder of LiNK (Liberty in North Korea). A regular at All Star Fridays at Hollywood’s Laugh Factory, PK has performed stand-up for about ten years.

Meanwhile, Hong’s voice can be heard on the comedy radio show The Sneakers & Stilettos Show on YTN FM 100.3 HD2. Hong has performed with acclaimed comedians Wayne Brady, Cedric the Entertainer, Mark Curry and Damon Wayans.

Backers of the “Kings of Ktown” crowdfunding campaign will have the chance to enjoy a wide variety of rewards, including being added to the show’s guest list, a minimum of two drinks and a free T-shirt or hoody. Generous donors who contribute at least $1,000 to the project will be given a producer credit.

To learn more about “Kings of Ktown,” check out its official website or Fanbacked page

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Epik High 2015 L.A. Concert Recap

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Six years have passed since South Korean hip-hop group Epik High last toured in the U.S., and last week, California fans made sure the group kicked off their highly-anticipated trek with a bang.

After successfully opening their 2015 North American Tour in San Francisco, Epik High headed to Los Angeles on May 29. Fans eagerly waited outside the Wiltern Theatre in Koreatown hours before the concert began, with the line winding around the block.

As fans squeezed into the theater, sweeping classical music echoed into the opulent gold ceiling. Instead of spectacular LED displays or set designs that are usually present at K-pop concerts, Epik High’s stage was minimally dressed with a single DJ booth that bore the band’s logo.

Promptly at 8 p.m., the concert kicked off with Koreatown rapper Parker, formerly known as Dumbfoundead, performing some of his signature songs, such as “Are We There Yet?” and “Ganghis Khan.” Fellow L.A. rappers Mike B and 1TYM’s Danny later joined him on stage to help create a dynamic performance.

Dumbfoundead at epik high

Epik High then took the stage with their soothing, orchestral track “Encore” and transitioned to their signature, electronic song “Fly.” Fans chanted the lyrics while bobbing their glow sticks to the beat.

Members Tablo, Mithra and DJ Tukutz then briefly introduced themselves to the audience—with the help of dramatic theme songs—and performed the hard-hitting song “Get Out of the Way,” followed by Map the Soul tracks “Free Music” and “Top Gun.” The group closed the set with “Light It Up,” which was originally featured in G-dragon’s second solo album.

After a short break, the trio proceeded to perform the ballad “It’s Cold” when DJ Tukutz abruptly cut off the music and suggested a song change.

“It’s too hot for L.A.,” the DJ joked in accented English. “L.A. too dry. L.A. needs more moist.”

Keeping the suggestion in mind, the two rappers proceeded to perform the melancholy song “Umbrella,” only for Tukutz to stop the music again—this time, citing that the song was “too moist.” Deciding to save the slow songs for later, the trio dove into the infectious beats of “Burj Khalifa” and cinematic songs “Map the Soul” and “Rich.”

During intermission, the band read a letter thanking North American fans for their continued support. However, the endearing letter quickly degenerated into a list of things they like about North America, which spanned from famous celebrities, such as Justin Bieber, Drake and the Jonas Brothers, to random things, such as grizzly bears, frappuccinos and Stanford University.

epik high performance 2

After DJ Tukutz opened the second half of the concert by showing off his K-pop dance moves, the team reflected on their long-awaited return to the U.S.

“The most difficult part of this tour is that it’s far away from home,” Tablo said to the audience, adding that he already missed his family back in Korea. “There’s only one good reason to be away from home, and it’s to be home with you guys.”

Without any set or wardrobe changes, the trio continued to perform old fan favorites, such as “Love Love Love” and “The One,” to hits from their latest album Shoebox, including Tablo’s cover of labelmate Taeyang’s “Eyes, Nose, Lips.”

For the grand finale, Epik High closed the show with their dark, uptempo song “Fan,” but returned for an encore at their fans’ insistence and performed “Born Hater.” During the encore, Tablo and Mithra offered some heavy-duty fan service, tossing autographed shirts to the crowd and taking selfies and videos with their fans’ smartphones.

Epik High ended the night by saying farewell to their L.A. fans, promising to return and not make them wait six years for the next performance.

The next stop on Epik High’s North American trek is Seattle, where the hip-hop trio will perform at the Showbox Sodo in Seattle on June 2 before heading to Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, New York City and Toronto. For more information about the tour, visit the official tour website.

See Also

 

“10 Obscure Facts About Epik High”

“Epik High Adds Additional Dates for 2015 North American Tour”

“September Issue: The Persecution of Daniel Lee”

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All photos by Derek Lee

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Escala Fuses Colombian, Korean Flavors

Above photo: A view of Escala, a Colombian Korean restaurant, from the DJ booth. (Photo by Jennifer “J-dub” Oh)

by JAMES S. KIM |@james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

Right smack in the middle of Escala, the Colombian-Korean gastropub that moved into L.A. Koreatown’s bustling Chapman Plaza a year ago, sits a DJ booth marked with a disco ball hanging overhead. Its presence is a clear nod to the proprietor’s 20-some years working in the hip-hop music industry.

“I thought about the DJ booth before I even thought about the food,” admits OG Chino, or Chino, as Escala’s owner likes to be called. “Escala started with no concept.”

Fortunately, the entrepreneur’s strong connection to his cultural roots—as a Korean native, raised for eight years in Colombia before moving to Los Angeles—helped him figure out the food and the rest of the conceptual details for the hip late-night spot. Since opening last spring, Escala, which took over the space formerly occupied by the well-known Bohemian lounge, has already made a number of “hottest local restaurants” lists, including mentions in the Los Angeles Times, LA Magazine and Eater LA.

“It just organically became Colombian-Korean fusion,” explains Chino over a glass of beer during the lunch hour on a very sunny March day. “[My business partners] gave me total trust and freedom in thinking up whatever crazy ideas I had. And I’m pretty passionate about my Korean and Colombian roots.”

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Escala head chef Chris Oh, left, and owner OG Chino. 

In many ways, Escala reflects Chino’s personal identity as a Korean Columbian immigrant who found his passion for music and art in Los Angeles. Beyond the food, the restaurant’s décor is an amalgamation of Colombian architecture and street art, some of which Chino did himself. Customers may even find Chino, who turns 48 this June, rocking his signature fedora while manning the DJ booth from time to time.

Born Kyu-min Lee in South Korea, he was 3 years old when his family immigrated to Bogota, Colombia’s capital, where his father ran a foundation fostering cultural exchanges between the South American country and Korea. The personal exchange wasn’t always easy for Chino, though.

“Being raised in Colombia … I didn’t have any Korean friends at all,” he recalled. “But at home we were raised very Korean. Our food was very Korean; my mom could not cook Colombian food for sh-t. As much as we asked her to, she couldn’t do it.”

When Chino was 11, his family moved once again—this time, to Los Angeles, and settled in what was a very young Koreatown. But with gang culture so prevalent at the time, growing up in L.A. wasn’t easy.

“If you wanted to be cool, you were either in a gang or you were a punk rocker, or something like that,” Chino said. “Because I only spoke Spanish, and I didn’t speak Korean well, I didn’t have any Korean friends. I ended up hanging out with the cholos, the Chicano gangsters. That’s where I got my name from.”

But when the hip-hop wave hit Los Angeles in the late ’70s and early ’80s, it was a life-changing time for the teenage Chino. Rather than rolling with gang members, he immersed himself in hip-hop culture, including buying records, practicing street art and hanging out with the early b-boys.

“Getting out of the gang scene and into the hip-hop music scene in L.A. gave me a whole new passion and gave me guidance: This is what I wanted to do,” he said. “It sounds corny to say, ‘Hip-hop changed my life,’ but this happened at a time when hip-hop didn’t exist in L.A., and we saw it happen.”

Cul-Food-AM15-Escala2 Visitors to Escala can spot the owner, OG Chino, by his signature fedora hat. (Photo by Mark Wales)

In 1988, Chino opened B-boy Records, a record store in South Central Los Angeles. Even though the store failed after two years, Chino’s reputation in L.A.’s hip-hop circles led to a meeting with legendary music mogul Rick Rubin, who had left Def Jam Recordings to found Def American Recordings (now American Recordings) in Los Angeles. After an internship with the record label, he was eventually hired as its marketing director. In 1992, Chino promoted his first record: Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

In addition to marketing, he created album artwork for a number of Def American artists, including Kwest Tha Madd Lad, Chino XL and Art Of Origin. After leaving the label, Chino worked independently as a music promoter and artist, and moved to New York in 1996, because “every hip-hop lover wants to move there at some point,” he says.

Over the years, as part of his work as a music promoter, Chino would organize many late-night parties, and that planted the idea in the back of his mind that one day he might want to open his own bar. So, when his sister, Kay Jin, approached him in 2013 with an open space at Chapman Plaza, the wheels began turning.

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B-boy Records. Photo courtesy of OG Chino.

“The space was offered to me to come on board and do something with it—and it already had a bar,” Chino said. So, he left New York and returned to the city that gave him his name.

When it came to who would lead Escala’s kitchen, Chino had an ear to L.A.’s foodie culture, and he knew that people followed chefs like he followed DJs.

“It would have been very easy, and maybe a lot cheaper, getting an older Colombian lady and Korean ajumma in there to cook together, and they would have come up with the perfect fusion,” Chino said. “But instead, I’m investing in Chris [Oh], and so far it’s been great.”

Oh, whom TV viewers may recognize as one-third of the winning team Seoul Sausage, from Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race Season 3, did his own research on Colombian cuisine and took some notes from Chino, but the resulting menu is very much the chef’s take on Colombian food. “It’s still Chris Oh,” Chino said. “That’s what I like about it.”

And he’s apparently not the only satisfied diner. “We get a lot of Colombian people,” Chino said. “L.A. doesn’t have a Colombian community in one neighborhood—they’re all spread out. Escala has become a place for them to come and gather.”

Cul-Food-AM15-Escala3 Escala’s marinated 16 oz. bone-in rib eye steak. (Photo by Jennifer “J-dub” Oh)

CevicheEscala’s ceviche, which includes tilapia and shrimp, roasted corn, asian pear, avocado and aji. (Photo by Jennifer “J-dub” Oh)

logo_cocktail One of Escala’s signature cocktails, the “El Jefe.” (Photo by Jennifer “J-dub” Oh)

For Korean palates, they may find both familiarity and discovery in the kimchi and chorizo fried rice empanada, which comes with a side of kimchi aioli, as well as the K-town Rice Con Pollo, a fusion of kimchi fried rice and Colombian arroz con pollo. For pork belly lovers, the Chicarron & Guac dish offers a change of pace from your regular samgyupsal, as the thick cuts of pork are prepared Colombian-style, along with some freshly prepared house guacamole.

Such creative touches expand beyond Oh’s work in the kitchen to Escala’s every nook and cranny. In figuring out the ambience for the restaurant, Chino went with what he knew and loved.

“I was really inspired by Bogota—its architecture is very beautiful, colonial, but at the same time, rustic, decayed—but decayed in a very organic, beautiful way, with a lot of street art on the walls,” he said.

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The phonograph centerpiece, designed by Steven Garcia and OG Chino. (Photo by Jennifer “J-dub” Oh)

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The Escala interior. (Photo by Jennifer “J-dub” Oh)

The terra cotta rooftops along the walls and the water fountain, along with the tall, wide windows that remain open with a full view of 6th Street and Kenmore Avenue lend themselves to that theme.

For the interior artwork on the walls, Chino reached out to local street artists, including an old friend who painted his record store back in 1988. Most of the furniture, from the benches and tables to the bar itself, came from reclaimed redwood from East Los Angeles and were built by hand. Escala was a creative space even before it was officially open, and Chino said he takes pride in that.

“I wanted it to be a very multicultural place, and it’s totally that and then some,” he said.

“My father was [behind] a lot of the inspiration for bringing Korean and Colombian cultures together,” he added. “We just talked about the possibility of starting an Escala in Bogota. If I do well here, I think that would be step No. 2.”

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This article was published in the April/May 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the April/May issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).

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Sponsored Post: KYCC Rallies Against Illegal Pot Dispensary in K-Town

Above photo: KYCC Prevention Education community organizers protest an unauthorized marijuana retail store in Koreatown.

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On Feb. 24, the Koreatown Youth + Community Center (KYCC)’s Prevention Education unit joined with local businesses and residents to protest the construction of an illegal marijuana dispensary in Koreatown.

The dispensary, The Dank Station, is being built near the intersection of 8th Street and Western Avenue, and is in the same building as several small businesses, including KYCC “Card under 35” Community Partner 8th St. Liquor. Despite much protest from the businesses to the building owner, the construction for the dispensary has continued unabated.

Approached by the local businesses for help, KYCC contacted the City Attorney’s office, which confirmed that The Dank Station was not listed as an authorized medical marijuana vendor. Confusing city legislation and zoning laws have enabled multiple unauthorized dispensaries to open; limited resources are available to enforce the law and close the shops.

KYCC joined to protest the dispensary due to its close proximity to Wilshire Park Elementary School, the Pio Pico branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and KYCC’s youth center.

“It is important to send messages that promote a healthy lifestyle to youth during their formative years,” says KYCC Community Organizer Carol J. Lee. She cites evidence that shows youth who walk by alcohol advertisements or marijuana dispensaries on a daily basis have increased chances of experimenting with controlled substances.

Koreatown is oversaturated with advertisements that promote alcohol and alcohol establishments. “KYCC wants to help our neighbors and local businesses create family-friendly spaces throughout Koreatown to promote community health, wellness and safety,” says Lee.

KYCC’s 2015 Summer Day Camp Enrollment Begins

 

Every year, KYCC’s Summer Day Camp (SDC) becomes home to nearly 100 kindergarten to fifth grade students who come from all over Los Angeles County to join teachers and volunteers for a summer filled with academic workshops, enrichment activities and field trips. KYCC partners with various organizations (like Cedars-Sinai’s Healthy Habits and Book Moms) and enrolls 80 to 100 high school volunteers to provide a high-quality summer program for all of our campers. We employ small group and play-based learning methodologies and strive to expose our campers to a wide variety of experiences. Enrollment for this year’s camp begins in April! For more information, please contact Vicky Chung at vchung@kyccla.org or call (213) 365-7400, ext. 5118.

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Take a Visit to Farmer’s Daughter Hotel

by JIMMY LEE

Like so many in Los Angeles, the Farmer’s Daughter is getting a facelift. And although this boutique hotel still has its sharp looks that attract a high-style clientele, the establishment is going under the saw, as well as sledgehammer and paintbrush, for the second time in less than 20 years.

The oversized pitchforks and pails that have hung on some of the exterior walls are coming down, as kitschiness is being replaced with a more understated interpretation of rustic farmland and Americana. Common areas are being opened up, like the lobby, with pop-up retail selling items from local artists and designers being thrown into the mix. Guestrooms are being redesigned to have open floor plans, with no walls between the bed and the glass-enclosed commode — you’ll have to close the curtain if you desire privacy.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-28-at-2.42.31-PMOne of the redesigned rooms at the Farmer’s Daughter. (Photo courtesy of Farmer’s Daughter Hotel)

For Ellen Picataggio (née Cho) and her husband Peter, who own the property, these new changes are just part of an ongoing evolution at Farmer’s Daughter, located in a prime location next to The Grove, the historic Farmer’s Market and CBS Television City, to better reflect the brand they want to project.

“We love the idea of country as being interpreted as traditional values and a deep-rooted salt of the earth-type thing. But it’s also trailblazing and not close-minded,” says Ellen, describing the brand’s image. “If you think of the early settlers, they are ‘tradition’ to us. But they were [also] visionaries and gamblers and dreamers.”

So now Ellen is injecting her own vision into these renovations. She’s commissioned artists to produce a different diorama with the theme “What does the farm mean to you” for each room. “The way I design is I start with a story,” says Ellen. And with the tagline of “The farmer’s daughter is all grown up,” the dioramas, along with the new decor and its nods to mid-century modern style, seem to suit the hotel’s story fittingly. But if not for a family tragedy, the story of how the Farmer’s Daughter came to be could have been much different.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-28-at-2.42.14-PMAn Art-O-Mat vending machine. (Photo courtesy of Farmer’s Daughter Hotel)

Ellen has a long background in hospitality. After emigrating from Korea, the Cho family bought Surftides, a seaside resort in Lincoln City, Oregon. Growing up, starting from the age of 10, Ellen worked every facet of the hotel, from the laundry room and housecleaning to managing the restaurant.

But Ellen craved creativity and, specifically, a career in fashion. “I wanted nothing of the family business,” she says. She eventually became an operations manager for a clothing manufacturer based in Berkeley, California, overseeing production overseas.

Her parents meanwhile had bought the Farmer’s Daughter after they had retired to Los Angeles, with the plan of having Ellen’s older sister run it. Her death in a car accident about one year after its purchase, however, changed everything.

“When [my sister] died, we just kind of fell in line,” says Ellen, who quit her job and moved to Southern California to take over the hotel. “It wasn’t a choice at that point.” She asked Peter, whom she was dating at the time and who worked for a software company in Silicon Valley, to help run what was a far different establishment in the mid-1990s.

“Hookers and drug addicts, that’s what it was,” says Peter, describing the clientele back then.

But soon enough, Ellen and Peter began making changes. “[Peter] really pushed my dad, and my parents were very reluctant,” says Ellen. “Can you imagine going to Korean parents — and we’re making money — saying, we need to borrow a million dollars because we’re going to renovate it. And they’re saying, ‘Why?’ That was a really hard thing.”

Screen-Shot-2015-04-28-at-2.42.53-PMTart (Photo courtesy of Ross Laurence)

After their first remodel in 1999, revenue doubled, so they were clearly onto something. They then took on the task of converting an adjacent storage shed into a restaurant and bar called Tart, which in turn would introduce them to a chef named Nick Erven. Erven clearly had larger ambitions, and the Picataggios decided to invest in Erven when it came time to open his own restaurant.

“The guy can cook his ass off,” says Peter. “I can’t [cook like] that, but I want to partner with someone who can.” So last summer, Saint Martha, named for the patron saint of cooks and servants, opened in a nondescript strip mall in Koreatown, with Erven’s modern cuisine earning stellar reviews.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-28-at-2.43.10-PMSaint Martha (Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley-Ryan Phillips)

What has also gained people’s attention is Ellen’s interior design for the space. There are no windows and mostly monochromatic, bare walls — “colors that you would imagine in an old convent or old church,” describes Ellen. But then there are decorative pieces like an oil painting of the saint, but with a tattoo down her neck, giving the space a sense of irreverence. “That is what Nick is to us: He’s that mixture of classic yet totally punk rock,” says Ellen.

So from designing restaurants to hotels, Ellen has become the creative force that she had always envisioned for herself. “I got to do the things I wanted to do in a very roundabout way,” she says. “But I’m not dead yet, and I’ve got that sewing machine [Peter gave me for Christmas]. And I would say the next part of my life is hopefully really focused on some fashion or retail world.”

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Originally published on Audrey Magazine

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Second Round with ‘Ktown Cowboys’

Pictured above: Ktown Cowboys’ director Daniel Park (left) and actor-writer Danny Cho. (Photo by Mike Lee)

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

If you need a crash course in navigating the mystifying nightlife of Los Angeles’ Koreatown, then look no further than bromantic indie dramedy, Ktown Cowboys.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park, who created the web series of the same name, the Entourage-like film unravels like a cinematic guide to a night out in one of L.A.’s trendiest neighborhoods, complete with karaoke hostesses, “booking” clubs, after-hours soju bars and a secret Korean Uber service that drives intoxicated customers home.

In addition to its visual pageantry of excess, Ktown Cowboys (partly influenced by the Hollywood dramedy, Swingers ), is an adult-coming-of-age story that follows around five Korean American male besties in their late 20s who struggle with transitioning into adulthood and sort out life issues over rounds of Hite and soju in K-town’s late-night spots.

Although the film made its world premiere March 15 at South by Southwest in Austin, Tex., the film will be coming full circle on April 25, when it opens to a Los Angeles crowd at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Park says his film, which plays out like a sleek music video with gorgeous lens flares and a hypnotic soundtrack, is meant to celebrate the idiosyncrasies of his hometown.

“There’s a certain mystery about K-town when you expose people to it for the first time. It’s exciting,” Park says, during an interview with KoreAm at Tom ‘N Toms café, shortly before SXSW.

Unapologetically raunchy with melodramatic beats, Ktown Cowboys puts its characters in slapstick predicaments, mostly involving awkward or sexual situations. But each is pursuing an American Dream that’s hindered by the cultural obstacles of growing up as a Korean American.

KTCB_ProductionStill_5656 copy(Photo courtesy of Ktown Cowboys)

The film stars Shane Yoon (“Jason”), who plays the reluctant heir to his family-run company, which is on the brink of collapse thanks to an embezzlement scheme perpetrated by the CFO; Sunn Wee (“Sunny”), an aspiring entrepreneur who dutifully runs his ailing father’s liquor store; Danny Cho (“Danny”), a business consultant who quits his job to pursue comedy; Peter Jae (“Peter”), a studying fashion design; and Bobby Choy (“Robby”), also known as Big Phony, plays an adoptee stuck in a dead-end job who struggles to connect with his Korean roots.

As the original web series centered on the camaraderie of hard-partying Korean American buddies, Park thought it was fitting to cast his friends—even though most of them were not professional actors (the film features the same principal cast).

“All I wanted to do was find a group of friends that were genuinely friends and capture [that] energy,” he says. “I knew the guys. I thought they all had different personalities that balanced each other out, [and] that was really fun to watch.”

Five years ago, Ktown Cowboys was merely a web series shot on a shoestring budget. Park and Danny Cho, the series’ writer and co-star, were inspired to create the series based on Cho’s stand-up comedy sketch on YouTube, in which he dresses in drag and mimics a “K-town girl” accent, a combination of Valley Girl and Korean.

The longtime friends decided it would be worthwhile to make a more in-depth series based on their high school and college experiences, despite having no prior experience in narrative filmmaking. Back then, Cho was hustling as an up-and-coming comedian after quitting his day job as a business consultant, while Park created online content for recording artists.

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DPD (left) and Danny Cho. (Photo by Mike Lee)

“We had no idea what we were doing,” Park admits. “We had never done any video stuff before, so we just wanted to try it. It was the first time we had ever [attempted to portray] K-town in a narrative format.”

The Ktown Cowboys web series quickly earned a cult following for its light-hearted cultural tips, such as how to use the honorifics hyung and oppa (“older brother,” depending on the gender using it), and which songs not to sing at karaoke (beware of ‘80s Korean ballads). The series grabbed the attention of Korean American Hollywood veterans, including Ken Jeong (the film’s executive producer) and actors Daniel Dae Kim and Steve Byrne, all of whom make cameos in the feature film.

Yet, despite the enthusiasm over the web series, Park was initially reluctant to create additional narrative content, due to some major life changes shortly after the web series’ release. In early 2010, he had broken up with his girlfriend, who edited the web series, quit the multimedia company he was previously working for and started a video production company with the band, Far East Movement. Park toured with the band for a full year during their “Like a G6” promotional campaign, just as Ktown Cowboys webisodes began airing on YouTube.

It was only after Cho found financiers interested in funding a Ktown Cowboys movie for about a million dollars that Park had a change of heart. But, by this time, four years had passed since the web series’ peak, and Park, having reached his early 30s, felt like he had outgrown the partying scene.

“When I made the web series, it was already based on memories of when I was younger. So, by the time I was shooting, I was already 31, maybe 32?” the director says. “And I was starting to feel silly about making a movie about just partying and f—ing around.”

That’s when Park decided to try giving his characters more depth. “Everyone else liked the idea of also bringing in another side to who these [characters] are,” he says. “What do these people who party in K-town do during the day?”

The question led Park and the screenwriters to base the characters’ narrative arcs on the actors’ real-life experiences, the bulk of which focus on the harsh realities of turning 30 and meeting the expectations of their Korean immigrant families.

Park’s own family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with “$700 in their pockets and a minimal understanding of English,” the director writes in a statement. “Although we eventually moved out of K-town, my grandparents, my friends and my heart remained there.”

“I think when you see the characters with their jobs and their family situations, [the film] is very, very relatable to Korean Americans,” Park tells KoreAm. “Sunn, the guy who plays Sunny, for example, that’s his liquor store in the movie. That’s his family liquor store that he’s running with his dad, but he hates it. He hates working at a liquor store.”

“Being a Korean American kid, you are your family’s retirement plan,” Park continues. “You kind of have that [thought] at the back of your mind: ‘I need to be able to support my parents and my family eventually.’ There’s that pressure. Some of that is kind of what you see happening to the characters subconsciously.”

There will undoubtedly be people who criticize the film for portraying Asians in a certain, hard-partying light, Park says. But regardless of whether the film is well-received or panned, the director believes that simply creating the film was the most important part for him.

“I’m just really thankful and happy that we had the chance to make this. It really was a community effort,” he says. “I came from a total non-film background. I picked up a 5D with a couple of friends one day and said, ‘F—k it, let’s make this thing about K-town.”

Watch the theatrical trailer for Ktown Cowboys below:

KoreAm Journal is giving away 5 tickets for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival screening of Ktown Cowboys on Saturday, April 25. Learn how to enter the giveaway here

See Also

“The Boys of Ktown” – KoreAm Journal’s July 2010 feature story

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Sponsored Post: KYCC Supports Women Entrepreneurs

Above: KYCC Business Counselor Young-Gi Harabedian (right) leads small business workshops and consultations in Spanish, Korean and English.

KYCC Program to Promote Women-Owned Businesses

This spring, the Small Business Development Program at the Koreatown Youth & Community Center (KYCC) is promoting our Women’s Business Center (WBC) to encourage and support women entrepreneurs in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. KYCC, as part of the Asian Pacific Islander Small Business Program (APISBP), received a federal grant in 2003 to operate a WBC from the Small Business Administration’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership to foster, recruit, and assist women entrepreneurs.

Our four APISBP partner agencies are Chinatown Service Center, Little Tokyo Service Center, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, and Thai Community Development Center.

“Since there is a tendency for the business climate to be male-dominated, it is crucial to provide networking opportunities, resources and tools to women business owners,” says KYCC Business Counselor Young-Gi Harabedian. “We are looking to create an environment where women entrepreneurs—particularly those who are economically or socially disadvantaged–can exchange their ideas, concerns and best practices to help each other thrive.”

In 1988 the SBA established the Women’s Business Center (WBC) Program to better help women overcome continuing barriers to success. Today there are WBCs in almost every state. KYCC’s WBC offers comprehensive training and counseling for women entrepreneurs to help them start and grow their own businesses.

The return on investment of the program is high, as businesses that receive assistance from WBCs have significantly better survival rates than those that don’t receive similar support. These successful businesses directly affect the communities in which they are located by bolstering the local economies.

Currently, the majority of KYCC’s Small Business Development Programs clients are male (51 percent), but Harabedian hopes that by building up recruitment and marketing efforts for women entrepreneurs the percentage of women’s involvement will increase.

She adds that though these efforts are underway, the SBDP, a program of KYCC’s Community Economic Development unit, is not segregated by gender. The SBP, which has offered workshops and one-on-one counseling for Korean American and Koreatown businesses since 1992, is open to any first-time or current business owners who are in need of assistance.

As the new KYCC Business Counselor, Harabedian is particularly adept at this role, given her professional background in local government, private sector agencies and media organizations. She is also fluent in Korean, Spanish and English, which enables her to provide trilingual business counseling.

Clients spend hours in one-on-one business counseling sessions, monthly workshops and an eight-week Entrepreneurial Training Program (ETP) concentrating on industry-specific topics that provide key resources and tools.

One of the strongest components of the program is brainstorming, receiving feedback and accessing resources to create a sound business plan, which can be a daunting first step for many small business owners.

In March 2015, KYCC’s SBP workshop reviewed licenses and permits to start a business in the City of Los Angeles, and detailed the local government agency’s process. A second workshop discussed target audiences, multicultural marketing, and public relations. Wells Fargo Bank delivered a third “Access to Capital” workshop, which outlined step-by-step procedures to qualify for small business loans.

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Free Trees for L.A. Residents!

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