Tag Archives: koreatown


Link Attack: Roy Choi in Watts; Dogs Rescued From Meat Farm; Custom Emoji Keyboard

Video: Roy Choi Wants the Next Food Revolution to Start in Watts

The first location will be in Watts at a site that used to be smoke shop and a barbershop. Choi says that his team wanted to open a location somewhere in South Los Angeles, and they ended up focusing on Watts because of the sense of community they found there. (LAist)

Dogs Rescued from South Korean Meat Farm Brought to San Francisco

Thirteen frightened young dogs and puppies arrived in San Francisco in a van Thursday, some trembling, tails between their legs, others with sad but hopeful eyes, and all of them unaware of how close they came to an agonizing, gruesome death. (SF Gate)


Memoji Keyboard Allows You To Emojify Yourself

Johnny Lin, an ex-Apple engineer, created a way for users to upload their own faces as emoji. Angry Asian Man Phil Yu tries it out.

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ is Doing Shockingly Well in South Korea

Why is the movie such a huge hit in the South Korean film market? Cinema Blend speculates the reasons, from the visuals to the high fashion costume design to director Matthew Vaughn’s popularity in South Korea.

2015 - The Great Tiger (still 1)

23 Most Anticipated Korean Films of 2015

Modern Korean Cinema lists the Korean films they’re most looking forward to this year.

Homebrew and House Parties: How North Koreans Have Fun

“Despite restrictions on money and free time, partying is integral to North Korean culture. But how does it compare to cutting loose in the South?” writes The Guardian.

Jung ho Kang

Korean Star Jung Ho Kang May Be Much Better Than Advertised

“In so many words, clubs just didn’t see many reasons to be optimistic about Kang,” writes Bleacher Report. “But as early as it is, one wonders how many are thinking differently these days.”

Searing Complaint Against Korean Church

The Contra Costa Korean Presbyterian Church is being sued for negligence in their hiring of a youth pastor, who the plaintiff claims repeatedly sexually molester her and her sister.

Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung Pledges to Solidify Status as Leading Bank

In his inauguration speech on March 18, Shinhan Bank President Cho Yong-byoung emphasized, “I will solidify our status as a leading bank.”

Cho said, “Through ceaseless innovation, we must create new opportunities and values and maintain the highest level of profitability and soundness.”

GM Canada Gets New General Counsel and Assistant GC, Peter Cho

It won’t be Cho’s first time behind the wheel of an automotive law department. He was most recently general counsel, corporate secretary and head of government relations at Volkswagen Group Canada, and has also has worked with Volkswagen Group China and Kia Canada.

Olympic Gateway

K-Town Landmarks Hope to Begin Summer Construction

The Olympic Gateway, a long-projected landmark for Los Angeles’ Koreatown, as well as the Madang project at Da Wool Jung, are expected to begin construction as soon as mid-May.

Korean Calligraphy Exhibition Open at Chicago Korean Cultural Center

On display are about 70 works by students of Kit-beol Village Calligrapher Lee Chul-woo. (Korea Times)

Four Korean American Officers Join Fairfax County Police Department After Graduating Academy

Arthur Cho, John Hong, Seung Meang and Shane Oh were among the 60 new police officers and deputies who graduated from the academy. This is the first time in the history of the department that an academy class had this many Korean-American graduates. (Centreville Independent)


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Beers and cheers

Protecting Youth from ‘Culture of Drinking’

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Our living room wasn’t very big. It was just spacious enough for a 16-inch analog television and a couch, but in that small space, my father also kept a pair of wooden display cases to house some of his most prized possessions: a collection of imported spirits. Even as he maintained an after-work ritual of drinking inexpensive soju on a nightly basis, he saved those bottles behind the glass for very special occasions, such as holiday gatherings or when guests visited our home.

When my father offered me a sip of his whisky for the first time when I was 10, I felt like it was a rite of passage, as if he were ushering me into manhood. Years later, when I was a high school student and my father was visiting me in L.A. (by that time, he was living and working in Korea), I remember him inviting me to do shots of soju with him after dinner. By that point, I think he assumed that I regularly drank with my friends, even though I was just a teenager.

My early exposure to drinking alcohol is probably familiar to many Korean Americans, who, starting at a young age, often witness how much alcohol is valued, celebrated and considered a key part of socializing and enjoyment with friends and family—or even bonding with one’s dad. For an ethnic community known to stigmatize issues ranging from mental health to cancer, there seems to be a remarkably casual attitude and permissiveness toward exposing young people to this culture of drinking, even excessive drinking.

Throughout his childhood, Sam Joo, a second-generation Korean American who grew up in the San Fernando Valley suburbs of Los Angeles, remembers attending family parties where “there was always a lot of drinking going on,” even though there were children ranging from ages 9 to 11 present. The kids weren’t drinking the liquor, but still, Joo said, “You observe this, and you [as a child] equate that as normal, acceptable behavior.”

Unfortunately, Joo is well aware of the impact this kind of permissive, often encouraging, attitude toward alcohol consumption can have on young people, its harmful effects lasting well beyond their adolescent years. A former residential counselor and prevention specialist at the Asian American Drug Abuse Program (AADAP), he now oversees efforts to stem underage drinking at the Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC), where he serves as the director of Children and Family Services. At the Los Angeles-based nonprofit, he and his colleagues are trying to send a far different message about alcohol consumption than what many Korean Americans may have learned in their youth: this celebrated culture of drinking isn’t “normal, acceptable behavior,” and neither is underage drinking.

“Alcohol is almost a gateway,” said Joo. “Even though drug addicts are addicted to cocaine and heroin, consuming alcohol from an earlier age is a very big part of their addictions.”

During his days working at AADAP, which provides treatment and rehabilitation for individuals struggling with substance abuse, Joo recalled meeting an 18-year-old Korean American client who was addicted to cocaine and crack. “He began ditching classes in junior high, and he would go over to his friend’s house [to drink],” described Joo. “He told me that it all started with drinking beer. Then he moved on to hard liquor, and it eventually led to drug use. Later on, he even had a brand new car, but he ended up selling it for $500 for drugs.”

With real-life examples like these, it’s no wonder the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies underage drinking as a major public health problem. More so than tobacco and illicit drugs, alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States. Studies show that people between the ages of 12 to 20 drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States, but that 90 percent of this alcohol is consumed in the form of binge drinking, according to the CDC.

A 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, based on statistics collected by the CDC, state and local agencies, found that 35 percent of high school students drank alcohol in the past 30 days, 21 percent binge drank (five or more drinks in one sitting), 22 percent rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol, and 10 percent drove after drinking. Again, the effects can be long-lasting, as with the case Joo mentioned. Youth who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21, says the CDC. It is well-documented that underage drinking also increases the risk of physical and sexual assault, and is also associated with overall risky sexual behavior, academic failure and smoking.

In addition, because there are so many physical and developmental changes occurring during adolescence, underage drinking can lead to brain shrinkage, stagnant formation of connections between nerve cells and even a prominent loss of existing connections in the brain, according to researcher Linda Patia Spear, who specializes in alcohol’s effects on adolescents at Binghamton University.

The consequences can also be deadly. Every year, an estimated 5,000 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related car crashes, homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning and other injuries, including falls, burns and drowning, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Yet, despite all of these dangers, Korean American community advocates say that, unfortunately, parents, who should be the messengers and disciplinarians on this issue, are often part of the problem.

“I have families come in for counseling services, and if a situation involves the child drinking alcohol, a lot of the parents didn’t seem as upset, compared to times when the situation involved their kids doing poorly at school,” said Joo.

“I think the perception of smoking has slightly changed [in the Korean American community]. I think there’s a recognition that ‘I don’t want my kids to smoke,’” he added. “But I don’t think drinking has caught up to that yet. I think that it’s still much more acceptable.”

Edith Bedolla, who counsels mostly Korean and Latino parents and teens about underage drinking at KYCC, said she’s encountered many parents who didn’t even know the legal age for drinking in the U.S. is 21. “Parents often think, ‘Well, where I come from, whether it’s Korea or Mexico, the legal age for drinking is 18, so here, I let my child drink because they’re under my supervision,’” said Bedolla.

One of her roles is to teach youth skills to better communicate with their parents, so they can talk about issues like pressures to drink with friends. But she said it’s difficult when the parents don’t find underage drinking a  problem—or tend to drink quite a bit themselves.

“So we give them information about alcohol, we teach them how to communicate with their parents, and we model the behavior so that they’re comfortable talking to them,” Bedolla explained. “[But] if their parents drink, it’s going to stop them from approaching them. It’s confusing to them. They’re not sure what to do.”

While it’s almost common knowledge that a number of Korean American adults—not unlike their counterparts in South Korea—have a problem with drinking excessive amounts of alcohol (the binge drinking rate for Korean Americans is 25.9 percent, while it’s only 16.2 percent for the general U.S. population, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health and Services Administrations, or SAMHSA), various studies also indicate that an alarmingly high number of Korean American youth are drinking before their legal age.

In a recent survey of 1,043 college students under age 21, conducted by AADAP, nearly a quarter of Asian Americans said that they had considered themselves “drunk” more than three times in the past month, compared with only 12 percent of all surveyed California students. Among those Asian American students, Korean Americans represented the largest ethnic majority in the pool, with 35 percent of them consuming six or more drinks in one sitting. Filipinos, at 24 percent, were second.

In another study, the California-based Alcohol Research Group, an international organization that examines alcohol-related behaviors, more than a quarter of the 202 Korean American adolescents surveyed in Southern California in 2009 said that up to 10 of their friends drank alcohol in various settings, including at home with friends and family or at parties. Only 8 percent said that none of their friends drank. Most of the respondents were aged 13 to 17.

Kyeyoung Park, an anthropology and Asian American studies professor at UCLA, said that she’s noticed the exposure of Korean American children to alcohol is quite “blatant,” not only in the home, but in many public venues—from Koreatown parades, featuring multiple alcohol sponsor logos, to the neighborhood Korean grocery store.

“When you go to a Korean supermarket in Koreatown, alcohol is prominently displayed in the middle [aisle],” said Park. “I don’t think that’s the case in other supermarkets.”

And, in fact, it’s hard to believe it’s a mere coincidence that the Koreatown district of Los Angeles, the densest neighborhood in L.A. County with a population per square mile of 42,611, is home to many after-hours drinking establishments that often stay clandestinely open past California’s 2 a.m. curfew on alcohol sales. The central area of Koreatown, represented by zip code 90005, has 104 active on- and off-sale retailers (including restaurants, bars, grocery stores and liquor stores) with liquor licenses, according to data on the Alcohol and Beverage Control’s website. That’s more than any other district in L.A. County represented by one zip code, according to the regulatory body.

“Koreatown is known as the destination to go drink,” said KYCC’s Joo.

Kids know this, too. They also know which Koreatown liquor stores sell alcoholic beverages to underage drinkers.

“Kids have told me directly, ‘Yes, it is very easy to get alcohol in Koreatown,’” said Carol Lee, a community organizer at KYCC. She has conducted several focus groups about alcohol use among Korean American youth between ages 16 and 18. “They knew all the liquor stores that sell to minors. They knew it all by word of mouth,” she continued. “I even learned that some liquor stores charge more, like an extra five or 10 dollars, when minors come in to buy alcohol.”

“Buying alcohol is really easy,” affirmed Jeff Joo (no relation to KYCC’s Sam Joo), a 20-year-old Korean American student at Santa Monica College, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 9. He agreed to be interviewed alongside his father, James Joo. “Even when I was in high school, I either had friends who had beer or even hard liquor at home because their parents don’t really mind them drinking, or we would just buy the drinks at stores that don’t check IDs.”


Though there’s been a greater crackdown in recent years on liquor stores that sell alcohol to minors, a number of studies show that many Korean American youth are still accessing it mostly at stores and bars, in addition to their homes. A 2010 survey conducted by UCLA’s Department of Statistics showed that 52 percent of the 233 Korean American participants between the ages 12 and 20 said that they got their alcohol by directly purchasing it from stores. That figure is significantly higher than the same survey’s Latino participants, 30.9 percent of whom answered that they buy alcohol from stores.

In an effort to curtail alcohol sales to underage drinkers, KYCC began a program called Card Under 35 in 2012. The staff came up with the name because they suspected many liquor stores in Koreatown are guilty of not checking IDs before selling to minors. The program’s aim is to encourage businesses to card anyone who looks younger than 35.

“Many teens nowadays actually look older than their age, so we thought 35 was the reasonable age to make sure that the person isn’t under 21,” Lee said.

Funded by the Department of Public Health, Card Under 35 sends out teams of KYCC’s organizers, including Lee, to pay weekly visits to liquor stores in Koreatown, about 60 percent of which are owned by Korean immigrants. Once the business owners agree to become a part of the program, KYCC organizers then spend six weeks training them and providing various signage, such as “right to refuse” signs.

“We felt that if liquor stores can card effectively, they would be able to identify underage drinkers at the forefront,” said Sam Joo, who oversees the program. “Then, the chances of alcohol getting into the hands of minors will be limited.”

Lee said that only about 20 percent of the 100 liquor stores she has visited this year have been receptive and are actively taking part in Card Under 35. Still, volunteers aren’t giving up, and they have plans to expand the program to include bars and restaurants in Koreatown.

To be fair, even well-intentioned business owners say that it’s difficult for them to ensure that what they sell stays out of the hands of underage drinkers.

“We do what we can,” said Connie Kong, who has been running Saki Liquor on South L.A.’s Jefferson Boulevard for more than two decades. “Obviously, we check their IDs and make sure people who buy alcohol are over 21, but there’s not much businesses can do besides that. There’s always a chance that a customer is using a fake ID or maybe they’re even buying alcohol for their younger friends. There’s not much I can do once those alcoholic beverages leave my store.”

And that’s why, community advocates say, efforts like Card Under 35 also need to be matched by education for both youth and their parents, who simply may not recognize the long-term dangers of underage drinking. James Joo said that, as a parent, he wants to trust his child as much as possible.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if my son is having a few drinks with his friends, unless he overdoes it,” said the elder Joo in Korean. “As long as it’s not to a point where he’s hurting himself or people around him, it wouldn’t be a huge concern to me. It’s not as serious as doing drugs, in my opinion.”

His 20-year-old son Jeff noted that adults tend to think young people drink because of peer pressure. “But I think young people drink for the same reason grown-ups drink,” he said. “People drink to enjoy being with their friends. Even when kids in high school or college drink, I think most of them probably drink mainly to have fun, and not so much because they’re being pressured to drink.”

The Joos’ statements seemed to underscore the strong social and entertainment aspect of drinking for many in the community—and that’s why advocates say there really needs to be a fundamental, community-wide cultural shift in how alcohol consumption is viewed.

“Somehow, we’ve got to be able to take group camaraderie away from this drinking culture [among Koreans]. I think that is the biggest thing,” said John Park (no relation to Kyeyoung Park), a public health analyst at SAMHSA, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that has been doing a great deal of prevention and education work about underage drinking under the campaign, “Talk. They Hear You.”

“Koreans have to come to grips with this very serious problem and deal with it [as a] community,” Park said. “In the U.S., there’s justified bias against drinking,” noted UCLA scholar Kyeyoung Park. “Heavy drinkers or underage drinkers are perceived as near-criminals in the American culture. It goes against American sensibilities. We should acknowledge that drinking isn’t [stigmatized] enough in the Korean culture.”

She added, however, that “just depriving people of drinking won’t work. We need to develop alternative ways, a cultural movement to help people to understand how fun it is to have hobbies. You don’t need to drink to have fun.”

In addition to KYCC’s efforts on the issue, some Korean American churches are promoting abstinence from drinking, while such L.A. nonprofits as Korean American Family Services are organizing forums like the one held August titled “Keep Calm and Stop Underage Drinking.” Sam Joo points out that there have also been community efforts to reframe the role of parents through such initiatives as Father School, which provides training retreats to help Korean American men become better dads—more available, reliable and compassionate. He thinks this kind of education also goes hand in hand with efforts to prevent underage drinking.

Joo compares the community’s anti-underage drinking efforts to the anti-smoking campaigns from two decades earlier. “No one thought, ever, that anyone could challenge the tobacco industry. About 20 to 25 years ago, if you told smokers, ‘You won’t be able to smoke anywhere else but your home,’ they would’ve said you’re crazy,” he said. “It took that long for that public health initiative to take hold.”

He added, “I think similar efforts need to happen with alcohol. Understanding and talking about alcohol as a detriment to achieving success has to be somehow incorporated. It has to be mentioned in the articles in the local media, it has to be talked about in talk shows.”


This article was produced as a project of The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, an initiative of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

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

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Ruling Knocks Down Challenge to 2012 L.A. Redistricting

by SUEVON LEE | @suevlee

Just one week before the Los Angeles City Council primary races this coming Tuesday, a federal judge in California ruled against a group of Koreatown residents who challenged the city’s redrawn boundaries of electoral maps in 2012 that sliced up the neighborhood into multiple districts.

In her Feb. 24 ruling, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall said she found no evidence that the city was “predominantly motivated by race” when it created the new boundaries, which the plaintiffs alleged diluted and negatively impacted the voting power of Koreatown residents.

Tuesday’s primary race for Council District 10, which spreads across L.A.’s city center and includes most of Koreatown, features two key players from 2012’s contentious redistricting process, in which L.A.’s Korean American community rallied in large numbers to protest the proposed divisions, voicing their dissent in heated public hearings.

Grace Yoo, an attorney, a leader against the 2012 redistricting and the former executive director of the Korean American Coalition, is seeking to oust District 10 incumbent Herb Wesson in this year’s election. As the City Council president, Wesson oversaw the map-making process in 2012 and is accused in the lawsuit of redrawing the lines so as to boost the percentage of African American registered voters in his district—and in so doing, splitting off parts of Koreatown’s electorate.

While L.A.’s sprawling Koreatown has never previously been incorporated into a single district, neighborhood advocates, citing historically absent Korean and Asian American representation on the 15-member City Council, urged 2012 to be the year to change that. The redistricting process occurs only once every 10 years to account for population and demographic shifts.

The rancor over the redrawn districts also stems from Koreatown residents’ frustrations with the slow pace of neighborhood improvement under Wesson’s leadership, even as the veteran councilmember has drawn campaign contributions from a sizable portion of Koreatown businesses and merchants requiring city alcohol permits.

“To this day, Koreatown has no park or recreation center, no athletic facilities, no community center, no performing arts center, no senior citizen housing, and a shortage of affordable housing,” the redistricting lawsuit filed in July 2012 stated.

Advocates, to no avail, pushed for the commercially thriving neighborhood—which the Wilshire-Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council estimates as having a population of 95,324 that is 52.4 percent Latino and 35.4 percent Asian—to be folded into a single district: Council District 13, which includes the areas of Historic Filipinotown and Thai Town, to create a more concentrated Asian American voter base.

Yet the city’s redrawn boundaries in the end reflected a new Council District 10 in the shape of a “fat turkey,” as LA Weekly put it. The new boundaries claimed most of Koreatown’s commercial corridors, preserving an important source of campaign funding for Wesson, while it folded in historically African American neighborhoods from District 9.

The redrawn ordinance was approved by the council, by a 13-2 vote, in June 2012.

Spearheaded by Yoo’s efforts, angry Koreatown residents turned to the federal court system to challenge a process they claimed was secretive, lacking transparency and blind to the community’s concerns. A redistricting commission comprised of individuals appointed by city council members, the mayor and other city officials was tasked with seeking public input throughout the process and advising the council on the new boundaries.

Named plaintiffs Peter Lee, Miri Park, Ho Sam Park, Yonah Hong and former KoreAm staffer Geney Kim—all identified as registered voters in District 10—alleged that the city’s redistricting scheme constituted racial gerrymandering by “packing” African American voters into the district and excluding Koreatown voters from a single district apportionment, preventing these residents from “obtaining a City Council resident who best represents the shared socioeconomic, cultural, linguistic, public health and other common interests of the Koreatown community,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit asserted that the City of Los Angeles used race as the overriding consideration in redrawing district lines, in violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. It referenced emails exchanged between council members and statements uttered by Wesson in other settings as evidence.

Indeed, the political veteran was recorded in a ministers’ gathering after the redistricting vote as saying that, when it came to the redrawn maps, he “did the very best I could with what I had”—continuing, “I was able to protect the most important asset that we as black people have, and that’s to make sure that a minimum of two of the council people will be black for the next 30 years,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

In her 24-page ruling last Tuesday, Judge Marshall sided against the plaintiffs. She said she saw no evidence that race was the predominant factor in drawing up the new boundaries and that every change to District 10 “satisfied a traditional, non-racial, redistricting purpose.”

She also said that District 10 was “a multiracial district where no one racial group constitutes a majority” and that 2012’s redistricting only increased the district’s African American voting population from 36.8 percent to 40.5 percent, or by a 3.7 percent change.

Nevertheless, the judge made note of the fact that the evidence demonstrated that “some individuals involved in the redistricting process (namely Commissioner [Christopher] Ellison and Council President Wesson) may have been motivated by racial considerations.” (Ellison, it should be noted, was one of Wesson’s appointees to the redistricting commission.)

But, she added, “that one commissioner expressed racial concerns and one councilmember praised the redistrict ordinance after it was passed cannot be imputed to prove the city’s motivation.”

Although race can be used as a factor in the redistricting process, it cannot be the primary consideration, and it was the plaintiff’s burden to show otherwise to the court in this case.

The parties in this three-year legal battle had been awaiting a ruling from Marshall ever since last summer, when both sides moved for a judgment in the case based on facts presented in court papers.

The lawsuit consolidated a separate complaint filed by registered voters in Council Districts 8, 9 and 10 who also alleged an equal protection clause violation over the city’s inclusion of the two historically African American neighborhoods into District 10 and the formation of a majority Latino district in the 9th District. The judge also ruled against those sets of plaintiffs.

Hyongsoon Kim, senior counsel at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and an attorney to the Koreatown plaintiffs, told KoreAm that his clients are considering a possible appeal of the ruling.

“We respect Judge Marshall’s decision but do not agree with it, given the uniquely strong evidence in this case that the city redrew city council district lines based predominantly on race,” he said. “Given that evidence, we believe Judge Marshall should have allowed plaintiffs an opportunity to present their case at trial and required the city to explain its actions at trial.”

Through a spokesman, Wesson said about the ruling, “The city attorney’s office did an excellent job advising the city throughout the process, along with our outside counsel Remcho, Johanson & Purcell. It’s now time to move on with the city’s business.”

Yoo did not respond to a request from KoreAm regarding the ruling. In an interview with USC Annenberg’s political news blog, Neon Tommy, she said, “I think it’s very important that we have another woman at the table. I think it’s important to have an Asian voice at the table. The lines are drawn so that this was not supposed to be done. I’m really one of those people that if you keep pushing me, I’m going to stand up.”

Yoo and David Ryu, who is running in Tuesday’s District 4 primary race, are the only Korean American candidates in the field for City Council this year.



Korean BBQ Chain Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong Turns Up the Heat in NYC

photographs by VICTOR CHU

Since opening its doors in December, Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong in Manhattan’s Koreatown has been inundated by adoring late-night dining crowds and visits from such food world royalty as Anthony Bourdain.

It’s not hard to see why: Baekjeong, or “butcher” in Korean, specializes in Korean barbecue featuring high quality cuts of meat, including beautifully marbled rib eye, short rib and mouthwatering pork belly. Pillows of egg and cheese nest inside the ring, cooking as the meat sizzles and is tended to by a server. A full-service bar offers perfectly chilled soju and specialty drinks such as a melon makgeoli cocktail made with honeydew juice and sweet Korean rice wine.

Baekjeong, open until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 6 a.m. on weekends, is located on the busy corridor of New York City’s West 32nd St. It’s already seeing up to a two-hour wait for tables and is on track to replicate the critical success of the Seoul-based empire’s Los Angeles location (named one of the 101 Best Restaurants of 2014 by Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold) and other branches in Flushing, Queens; Hawaii; and Atlanta.

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-interiorInside Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong in Manhattan

Its namesake comes from South Korean gagman and former professional wrestler Kang Ho-dong, a colorful television personality whose caricatured image adorns the wood-paneled walls amid a lively, bustling atmosphere. Behind the scenes of Baekjeong’s Manhattan location—which doubles as the chain’s new U.S. flagship—is a triumvirate of New York metropolitan area-born and raised talent. Chef Deuki Hong, 25, trained under Momofuku’s David Chang and French culinary mastermind Jean-Georges Vongerichten and is collaborating with Food Republic contributing editor Matt Rodbard on Koreatown, U.S.A., a cookbook to be published later this year. Co-owners Joe Ko and Bobby Kwak are longtime entrepreneurs who have helped develop the hospitality and nightlight scene of New York City and K-town for over 15 years.

KoreAm sat down with the three-person team to discuss the arrival of Baekjeong in Manhattan and why they consider the restaurant the “Peter Luger’s of Korean barbecue.”

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-meat1Chadol, or thinly sliced brisket.

As Korean Americans from the greater NYC area, why did you feel a need to open Baekjeong in Manhattan?

Ko: Korean food is all about mahtjips (specialty taste houses), and that’s what we felt was needed in K-town. In Korea, you go to a soondae jip (blood sausage house) for soondae, jjim jip (braised meat house) for jjim. Baekjeong is maht jip for barbecue. A lot of K-town restaurants have menus with over 75 items. Here, we focus on really good barbecue and just three really good jjiggaes (stews)—a beginning-to-end, good quality meal from the banchan (side dishes) to kogi (meat) to jjiggae.

Besides, L.A.’s Koreatown goes on for miles but Manhattan’s Koreatown is only a block long. We know this block so well, especially since we helped develop the lounges and hotspots when we were younger. We have so much respect for the block, but we wanted to expand K-town. Our restaurant is more communal, and we wanted more of that Korea-like feel—that kind of after-work lifestyle.

Deuki, you’re a Momofuku and Jean-Georges alum. What made you decide to be head chef of Baekjeong’s U.S. flagship?

Hong: I’m learning an incredible amount here. I literally get my ass kicked every single day (laughs). Momofuku and Jean-Georges were 50-something seats. Baekjeong holds 150 seats, two floors and 400 people each night. Back then, it was fun when I could say, “I’m in a Michelin star kitchen” or “Oh, I work on a very cool staff.” Here, everything’s new, it’s a different animal. We want to treat our customers right, and the only way on my end to do that is making sure that, on any given day, this is the best jjigae I can make. Our meat is of the highest quality. The lowest we have is prime. Even our servers cook the meat for you on the spot, since it’s expensive meat. That’s our full service part.

Kwak:We’re kind of like the Peter Luger’s of Korean barbecue (laughs).

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-meat2Hanjungsal, or pork jowl. 

Besides the meat, which is obviously the star attraction, Baekjeong offers some fun twists, such as the doshirak (lunchbox) of rice, kimchi, vegetables and egg, or bibimbapWhat else makes Baekjeong different from other Korean barbecue joints?

Hong: The rings around the grills are iconic of Baekjeong. One portion has what’s like our version of gaeranjjim (steamed eggs). We ladle the eggs in the rings while the meat cooks so the eggs cook on one side and the cheese melts with the [sweet] corn on the other.

What’s the relationship between Kang Ho-dong, the person, and Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong?

Ko: Kang Ho-dong is the main celebrity face. It really started with Kang’s [South Korean reality variety] show, Il Bak Ee-il (2 Days & 1 Night), where they [feature] these competitions focused on food and travel all over the country. The show was all about [Kang] since he is a bigger guy who loves to eat and is known to eat well. When Kang eats, he always eats mashi-kae (deliciously), as my mom always says. I trained with him for ssireum (Korean wrestling) one summer. In the mornings, we would hike up to the mountains. Breakfast was kogi and banchans and jjiggae and after that a quart of milk. After afternoon practice, lunchtime was kogi and jjiggae and just bowls and bowls of rice. After weight training, dinner was … kogi again! (laughs) [Kang] eats mashi-kae even if it was just rice. So from gag to restaurant, he’s gotten so popular.

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-meat3Kkohtsahl, or prime unmarinated short rib.

Joe, can you talk more about your mutual interest in wrestling?

Ko: I’m a former championship wrestler, and my father immigrated to the States in 1974. My father was a ssireum wrestler who created the Korean American Ssireum Association of New York and brought over Kang to New York when Kang was a champion wrestler back in the day. My father passed away in 1997, but I continued to be involved in ssireum. That’s where the relationship and connection to Kang comes from.

When did you first think about bringing Baekjeong to Manhattan?

Kwak: Somebody told me that I had to check out [the first U.S. location of] Baekjeong, so I flew out to L.A. [with Deuki] last year. We went and it was an hour-and-45-minute wait. We get to our table and eat, and just stared at each other, thinking, ‘Holy cow. This is the best we’ve had.’ We have not had a meal like this in New York, ever. It was the whole experience. Like he’s (points to Deuki) eaten and cooked a lot of good food, and we were both on the same page.

So I get on the phone with my business partner, Joe Ko, and tell him to get on a plane to Korea and convince [Baekjeong’s corporate owners] to let us open one in New York. Joe literally got on the plane in the next few days, flew to Korea and rode on a bus for three hours to a ssireum tournament to track down Kang Ho-dong’s manager.

Ko: I pulled some strings and actually got the OK for the West 32nd St. Manhattan branch. It was a long journey to get to this point and open the restaurant.

Cul-Food-FM15-BJ-barBartender Khris Stars prepares melon makgeolli cocktails.

Baekjeong landed in the No. 1 spot on NY Eater’s Hottest Restaurants of January 2015 and No. 11 on New York Magazine Grub Street’s Restaurant Power Rankings. Plus, there’s a two-hour wait! What’s that feel like?

Kwak: Yes, it’s an amazing problem to have. Corporate in Korea named us the flagship for the States, and they had the highest expectations from us since we’re in Manhattan. They’re ecstatic since Korean food rarely gets that type of recognition. I’m realizing how Korean food is really blowing up, especially in New York, thanks to guys like Hooni Kim and David Chang who put Korean cuisine on the map. Manhattan’s Koreatown, it’s now not just for Korean people, it’s for mainstream America. This block has changed tremendously and evolved—but it still has yet to catch up with the evolution of food. We feel that the time has come to raise the bar and to really give people that true Korean food experience. That’s what we want to do. We want people coming here because we serve great food.


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


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L.A. City Council Candidates Grace Yoo and David Ryu Make Final Push for Primary

by GRACE LEE | @grace_koream

With the primary nominating election for the L.A. City Council less than a week away, Korean American candidates Grace Yoo and David Ryu are actively canvassing different neighborhoods they haven’t visited to increase voter participation.

Grace Yoo, a longtime community activist who is running for L.A. City Council District 10, has been focusing on canvassing different demographics within her district. As of Feb. 25, Yoo has raised $72,886 in contributions while her opponent City Council President Herb Wesson has raised $401,950.

There has been an ongoing political battle between these two politicians over the issue of public safety problems. Yoo spoke out against Wesson in an interview with CBS saying that the city council president had been too slow to speak out against Koreatown’s karaoke bar La Defence, which was deemed to be a drain on police resources by the city zoning administrator, as there had been several reports of assault and two reported cases of rape after victims left the bar. La Defence is now closed for business for violating city permit rules.

When asked about the obstacles of running against a veteran politician, Yoo told KoreAm that many business members who donated to the political campaign were initially hesitant to make contributions as they were “afraid of retaliation.” She stated that many business owners feared that their permits would be revoked.

David Ryu, another Korean American running for City Council District 4 raised $367,868.87 in contributions with $299,181.59 in expenses and $71,522.21 cash on hand. Although Ryu started off with the highest number of contributions, his opponent Steve Veres, director to state senator Kevin de León caught up quickly with support from the Political Action Committee (PAC). Veres ultimately received $263,428.45 in contributions with $85,071.85 from PAC.

Ryu faces an uphill battle as other L.A. City Council District 4 candidates, such as Iranian American economist Sheila Irani and community activist Carolyn Ramsay, have drawn the highest share of their campaign contributions from ZIP codes within the district. According to the LA Times, Ryu received 34% of donations within the district while Irani and Ramsay drew 82% and 72% respectively. Ryu’s goal until the primary is set at $489,000 including matching funds from the city.

Ryu will be holding his final fundraiser at Koreatown’s lounge, Lock & Key tonight at 7 PM. Both candidates are still in need of support from the community as the March 3 primary is less than a week away.


Featured image courtesy of David Ryu and Grace Yoo


[VIDEO] NY Times Explores Hot Spots in LA’s Koreatown

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The New York Times recently gave a crash course on how to spend 36 hours in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, introducing readers to the vibrant neighborhood’s thriving night-life and rich culture.

The guide features some of the trendiest restaurants, bars, theaters and cultural sites in K-town, including Wi Spa, where Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead and Conan O’brien bonded over painful body scrubs and sitting naked in steam rooms.

You can read the New York Time’s full guide on LA’s Koreatown here.


Featured image via the New York Times


‘Ktown Cowboys’ to Premiere at SXSW Film Festival

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Ktown Cowboys will be making its world premiere at the 2015 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Directed by Daniel “DPD” Park, the indie film follows a group of hard-partying friends who band together in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. Each of the characters struggle with their own unique issues as they transition into adulthood.

Based on a popular 2010 YouTube series of the same name, Ktown Cowboys features a Korean American cast that includes screenwriter and comedian Danny Cho, Bobby Choy, Peter Jae, Sunn Wee, Shane Yoon, Eric Roberts, Steve Bryne, Simon Rhee, Ken Jeong, Daniel Dae Kim and Kim Young-chul.

On a side note, another Korean American film that will be making its world premiere at SXSW this year is Twinsters, a documentary about identical twin sisters reuniting 25 years after they were separated at birth.

The 2015 SXSW Film Festival will run from March 13-21. You can view the festival’s lineup here.


Photo courtesy of SXSW

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Serial Robber Targeting Korean Women in L.A.

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Police are seeking a man suspected of assaulting and robbing four Korean women in Los Angeles between November and December of last year, according to authorities.

The robberies took place between 10:50 p.m. and 4:30 a.m in different apartment buildings in Koreatown and the East Hollywood area. The robber, who appears to be a Latino man around 20 to 30 in age and 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-8 in height, followed each of the female victims into an apartment elevator and viciously assaulted them before stealing their purses.

Police said that the suspect sexually battered and punched one victim several times. In a separate instance, he slammed the victim’s head on the ground, kicked her and attacked her with a “sharp object” to the neck.

In addition, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) released a surveillance footage from one of the robberies.

Anyone with information about the robberies is asked to call LAPD’s Olympic Division robbery detectives at (213) 382-9460.


Featured image courtesy of the LAPD