One out of every 4 entrepreneurs is a restaurant owner. However, without the experience, you wouldn't want to jump the gun. Especially within the Itaewon area, even though there are various restaurants, it’s already become a red ocean. Although the competition is crazy like a jungle, there is a restaurant that's been doing very well since 2005.
Serving American traditional brunch, it is a hotspot where all the trendy people have been visiting. With a hashtag ‘#SUJI'S’ that's been all over SNS pages, CEO Suji Park's restaurant, SUJI'S (FNB) is the main character in play.
Korean government has been introducing Korean Cuisine Worldwide since 2008. The export of Korean Cuisine products has gone up from about 3.3 million dollars to 6.1 million dollars since 2009, and within 5 years, there are more than 470% raise in numbers of Korean restaurants in foreign countries.
However, it hasn't been very successful in introducing the Korean Cuisine Worldwide. The conception of Korean food hasn't changed much and the influence is still very low. The ones that are out in foreign countries are rather based on eateries like fast food, bakery and coffee which are not of traditional Korean Cuisine. Those ones are usually launched by franchises and corporates. Even though the Korean government is trying to continue on spreading the traditional Cuisine in other countries, there are lots of criticism.
Even with the negative atmosphere, this restaurant has introduced Korean Bulgogi in Costco, one of the largest supermarket chain in America, and also opening an upscale fast casual restaurant in Omaha, Nebraska which is known to be the hometown of Warren Buffett. SUJI'S cuisine is one of the places that is contributing to Korean Cuisines Worldwide.
SUJI’S does not fear failure and continues with attempts to build its brand. What drove SUJI'S to challenge the restaurant business and what are her thoughts on success in the long-run? Just her being herself reflected her motto. We were fortunate to have an interview with her at the main branch of SUJI’S in Itaewon, although she’s been busy travelling around America.
The main branch was designed with artistic interior, and even little utensils were picked up by her. As we expected, she exuded intense passion and her demeanor came nothing short of a lady with a lot of energy.
To begin with, we were astounded by her outstanding biography. She majored in Gayageum (Korean zither with twelve strings) in art high school and also holds a marketing major from New York Fashion Institute of Technology. Graduating from International Culinary Center, she was an international meeting planner. When asked why she jumped into the restaurant business, she said she opened the business with the philosophy that, food is enjoyed by everyone and allows people in the world to interact with each other. She started working on launching her brand, SUJI'S into large supermarkets after seeing Starbucks Coffee’s Frappuccino in Costco to slowly make her dream come true.
She has always been in contact with various foreign cultures and quick at picking up trends. She started launching her brand abroad with her great sense of determination.
In Spring of 2005, with the trend of brunch meals becoming popular in Korea, SUJI'S opened the business with a motto ‘mom made New York Style comfort food.’ In 2009, she opened a cafeteria by request from U.S. consulate office in Japan. In 2011, she opened SUJI'S cuisine that sells livestock products and became a meat vendor at Costco. Subsequently, in 2012, she opened a branch in Japan, and opened another branch of corporation FDMR in Nebraska in 2014. CEO Park succeeded in launching Korean Cuisine in America with SUJI'S restaurant and as a vendor, SUJI’S cuisine.
After the economic crisis in 2008, large discount supermarkets like Costco started becoming very popular. A lot of Korean brands tried to launch their products in Costco but hasn't been successful with its very strict rules on establishing new brands. However, without any funding from large corporations, SUJI'S launched its brand in Costco.
“Our company is small but we are experienced and fast in decision making so that made it possible for competing with other big corporations.” we could see CEO Park's determined faith in her experience.
Another success in her business was that they focused on ‘healthy bowl food’ which became a trend in American food business. Fast Food businesses has been trying to approach consumers with healthier lifestyle with various bowl foods. SUJI’S bowl foods use a lot of vegetables and that was one concept that grasped the social trend.
Since March of 2015, Korean Bulgogi products are being sold at 120 Costco locations in San Francisco, San Diego and Texas and after a food tasting survey at 28 Costco locations, it brought an astonishing result of 71.43% with consumers saying ‘it is very tasty'.
SUJI’S is focused on launching Korean cuisine abroad, a step further than Japanese vendors. The company is focused on vending its products in large supermarkets to Americans rather than Korean immigrants. It focuses on satisfying American consumers who are rather selective and the goal is to grow popularity of Korean cuisine among them.
“A lot of famous chefs are interested in Korean fermentation, so Korean cuisine is being recognized. For the first time in Google search results, there were more search on Kimchi than Germany's sauerkraut last. However, the conception of Korean food is still not too great. We need to satisfy their selective tastes by upgrading our cuisine according to their needs. It is disappointing that we are losing chances on getting more Korean Cuisine out there.”
She faced another hardship where she had to find a new processing facility. On the co-researching project with University of Nebraska Innovation campus questions, “I was in search of finding the best meat processing technology-based partnership and met with some incredible professors at the University of Nebraska through an American food show. And with that coincidence I was fortunate to be funded by the Nebraska state for developing those products.” It proved CEO Park's determined faith in making gluten-free and preservative-free Bulgogi products.
She went out to develop Bulgogi products using High Pressure Processing technology and served them to consumers. That technology is used to keep the freshness longer by not altering the taste and keeping the microorganisms out of the food. It was a very new technology, first in the world that will keep the product fresh for 45 to 65 days without preservatives. CEO Park is working on extending that technology into more products like Bibimbap, Japchae and Kimchi.
CEO Park is looking at a bright future for Korean Cuisine industry that is now known for its healthy nutrients and the variety of menu to choose from. She emphasized that, with a more constructed advertisement and investment, the business could be exported into different foreign countries. “It is still unfortunate that Korean Cuisine is not as known as I would like it to be and ironically it was the Nebraska state and the University of Nebraska that funded me to develop my dream to mainstream Korean Cuisine into American market, not Korean government. We need to focus on making Korean Cuisine Worldwide but also making it more domestic here.” That was her thoughts after her hands on experience.
SUJI'S Cuisine is working towards its goals without fear, to satisfy its expansive customers who are craving for new things, every day. Other Korean companies could benchmark the successes of SUJI’S and the CEO can be a great role model for aspiring Korean restauranteurs. Of course she has gone through so many hardships and has overcome obstacles. She further remarked that, her background as an Asian and a woman was never going to have an effect on her success in business. In order to defy any form of ennui, she refrained from having such thoughts.
SUJI’S is taking one more step into making Korean Cuisine Worldwide with the meeting with the state of Nebraska. Hope to see great results in Korean Cuisine and Korea’s reputation with her thriving efforts into her eponymous business, CEO Park.