A new Korean restaurant has partnered with Zingerman’s Delicatessen to bring Korean flavors to Ann Arbor.
After experimenting with her favorite childhood dishes, University alum Ji Hye Kim, the owner of the San Street food cart, decided in July to open her own Korean restaurant. The restaurant will take over the location of Zingerman’s Catering in Kerrytown.
Kim said she hopes for her food to be accessible to people of all backgrounds.
“The kind of Korean food that I want to serve is really full-flavored and delicious, but yet approachable,” Kim said. “I want it to be slightly different Korean food than what you can find elsewhere in town: street food or regional food that you’ve never seen before.”
Kim graduated from the University in 2002. After spending four years at a start-up insurance company, she said she decided not to continue in the industry.
“You put 70 hours a week working but you think, is this industry worthy of me?” Kim said. “Do I want to spend 70 hours a week of my life at this job? I decided that I didn’t.”
After joining her husband in Ann Arbor, she applied for jobs with three different employers: an insurance company, the University and Zingerman’s.
Though she got called back to all three jobs, she chose Zingerman’s despite her limited experience in the food industry and the relatively lower pay. Kim said she was driven to take the Zingerman’s job because of her love for food, as well as her experience with the deli’s exceptional customer service.
Kim said her love for food began at a young age, when her mother made her homemade Korean food from scratch.
“My mother didn’t teach me how to cook,” she said. “What she taught was to recognize good food because she fed me good food.”
After beginning at Zingerman’s, she said she realized she wanted to bring that same caliber of service to the Asian food industry.
“I was having a great time, but at the same time I was thinking wouldn’t it be great if I walked into a Chinese grocery story and got this level of food and this level of service,” she said.
Soon after Kim heard about Zingerman’s Path to Partnership, she said she began to dream about starting her own Korean restaurant. Path to Partnership is a program through which current Zingerman’s employees have the opportunity to apply to become a partner at an existing restaurant or create a brand using the Zingerman’s name.
Kim talked to Zingerman’s founders Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig about her ideas. She said they were very supportive and encouraged her to start small.
Accordingly, Kim and a co-worker acquired a food truck and sold meals at Mark’s Carts on Washington Street for four years, then this January applied for and received a partnership with Zingerman’s.
“The process is usually faster,” Kim said. “But I chose to do it slowly because I wanted to figure out exactly what I wanted to pinpoint and do.”
She also plans to make her own versions of the more famous Korean dishes, like bibimbap. Above all, she said she wants the food to fit well in the Ann Arbor setting.
“The kind of Korean food I want to do will inevitably reflect the setting I am in, which is Ann Arbor,” she said.