sōn mät 손맞 literally translates to hand flavor
“As family legend had it, they had a magic touch: [sōn mät]. Flavor in their fingertips. Flavor that had been passed down over thousands of years, from generation to generation, flavors that were now part of their very spirit.” -Roy Choi, L.A.SON
I love cooking and eating. For example, when I was super skinny and eating only 1 baked chicken breast with 7 stalks of steamed asparagus, 8 almonds, a protein shake and half a cup of yogurt – I read cookbooks at night, like bedtime stories. In the midst of dieting and being skinny, reading about food and recipes comforted me and it lulled me to sleep.
Maybe that’s not a good example. Don’t judge.
I wanted to do many things when I grew up. One of them was owning and running a restaurant serving homestyle Korean food, pastries, coffee, and quiche. And I did just that. No quiche or pastries but close enough.
The dude and I had no experience* but we wanted to do everything. We hit the ground running at full speed like there was an angry beast nipping at our ankles, about to consume us. In order to save money, we did a lot of the work on the place ourselves, staying late into the early hours of the morning – painting, cleaning, and fixing the endless amount of minor things. After a week of renovations, we opened with less than 5 items on the menu.
People started trickling in. Then those same people came back and brought with them their friends, family, and co-workers. After a couple of months the dining room was packed during lunch and dinner, deliveries were lined up on the counter waiting for the driver to return, and order tickets completely flooded the kitchen.
Once the restaurant was fully operating, I had a new dream. I wanted to be worldwide. I wanted bulgogi rice bowls and kimchi to be as accessible as a hamburger or pizza, anywhere in the world. I wanted to redefine Korean food. All my recipes were streamlined – each ingredient served more than one purpose. The same seasoning and marinades were used for most of the dishes but with a few changes that still set each dish apart. I prioritized keeping costs low but never sacrificed flavor or quality. I kept food waste to a minimum while using only whole fresh ingredients.
At first we were open 7 days a week from 10:30 to 9:30. Then that changed to 11:00 to 9:00 and closing in between rush hours. And then open 6 days a week and closing major holidays. Then closing even on the minor holidays, like President’s Day. What restaurant closes on President’s Day? No restaurant closes on President’s Day. And finally, on some days, we just closed up shop.
I drove from one city to another picking up fresh ingredients. I did most of the cooking and prepping. I covered both shifts too many times. For a month it was just me in the kitchen – running a 6-burner stove, a grill, a flat top, and a deep-fryer, serving 20 different freshly prepared items. Not to mention, the non. stop. CLEANING.
My boyfriend, who had his own business at the time, was managing the front, handling advertising, taking orders, doing the accounting, helping me in the kitchen and also picking up ingredients; all the while, still running his business full-time.
We were working 15 – 20 hour days, 6 to 7 days a week – I was in a constant state of anxiety and exhaustion. Chain-smoking and diet coke were my only relief. I had to push my body to keep moving, repeating my mantra to myself all day: “My body is just a tool, my body is just a tool..” The never-ending physical, mental, and emotional grind wore us down. Then the final straw – I started getting panic attacks, in the kitchen, while the orders were coming in.
My goal changed. I just wanted to beat the statistic that most restaurants close within a year. So when a year and a few months was up, we closed the doors for good.
After we sold the restaurant I went into business with my dad and tried my hand at photography. I also taught myself programming and made a few simple websites. But mostly, my new puppy was sick and I drove myself crazy taking care of him – turns out he has a life-threatening brain disease. When I look back at the past year of my life, it’s blurry. I didn’t have any major goals – I just lived my life day to day.
For a while, I wanted nothing to do with the kitchen. I kept finding excuses to not cook, like, the stove is too weak, there’s no counter space, I don’t want to do dishes, etc. But slowly I started cooking again and what I realize now is that my love for cooking and wanting to share it with everyone is a real and tangible thing.
Since I wasn’t able to make the restaurant a worldwide operation, I’ll settle for the next best thing – the Internet. I’ll share my family recipes and my secret recipes from the restaurant. I’ll share anything and everything I like to make and eat. And of course, I’ll share pictures of the pups.
Thank you. Please come again.
Our vision was: “What would we want to eat at a home-style Korean restaurant? And the portions better be legit.”
*I had some experience. I owned and ran a hot food pop-up at local farmer’s markets for a year prior to opening the restaurant.