바로가기 메뉴
본문 바로가기
주메뉴 바로가기
Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SUCCESS STORY
  • print
A great restaurant will be found by people no matter where it is
NKRF Date 2022-02-18 Hit 260

A great restaurant will be found by people no matter where it is

 

 

 

 


Gradually but surely, CEO Lee is preparing to realize her dream. In the near future, one can be sure to expect the day will come where people can enjoy Pyeongyang naengmyeon on the Han River.
“Okryugwan is a famous naengmyeon (cold noodle) restaurant. Pyeongyang Okryugwan was already crowded with people who came to eat naengmyeon so many times that people would end up in line for a long wait. So, I decided to open a restaurant that could offer the same taste as Okryugwan naengmyeon.”
She learned how to make broth and chewy noodles in detail from the Okryugwan chef.
After first opening the restaurant in the back alley of Tongil Street, customers raved about the taste of naengmyeon that was equal to that of Okryugwan and through word-of-mouth, the restaurant became “the” restaurant.
In addition, her father, who had graduated from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Kim Chaek University of Technology and who worked as a manager at the food factory on the military base, passed down ways on how to season well, bring out the sweet taste, and eliminate the salty flavor.

 

 

 

Sudden Departure
In 2011, while running her naengmyeon restaurant, she went to Shenyang in China to visit her relative.
When she visited her aunt’s Korean restaurant, she met an American missionary by chance and was given a Bible as a gift.
“At first when the missionary handed me a Bible, I was perplexed. I thought the interaction was ok since it happened in China, not North Korea. However, someone was watching.”
A person who watched this interaction unfolding was an acquaintance who was also visiting their relative in China.
When the person arrived in Pyeongyang, he threated CEO Lee that he would report her for receiving the Bible from the American missionary, and later he asked for a large sum of money in exchange for silence on the matter.
After long consideration, she decided that the money would not resolve the situation so she had to leave Pyeongyang with her newborn daughter, whose birth could not be registered.
When she arrived at the border city adjacent to China, she was extremely worried that her infant daughter might cry when crossing the border, so inevitably she gave her daughter, who was asleep at the time, a very small dose of sleeping medicine.
Fortunately, she was able to come to South Korea with her daughter in 2013, but she said she always felt bad because it was an inevitable choice that she had to make concerning her baby’s life.
In the early days of settlement, she had multiple part-time jobs so that she could also raise her 3-year-old daughter.
She worked at a plastic manufacturing factory printing out cosmetic lids and packaging cosmetic products.
One day, an acquaintance told her that there was a naengmyeon restaurant in Seoul that tastes exactly like Okryugwan naengmyeon, and that people usually have to wait in line for two to three hours to get in.
After more than an hour wait, with a little bit of both curiosity and anticipation, she tried this naengmyeon. She was disappointed that it was not the same as what she had had in Pyeongyang.
It tasted like the old Pyeongyang naengmyeon brought down by refugees in 1950.
During that time, as she was contemplating her career path, she had a light-bulb moment.
“Yes. I can make authentic Okryugwan naengmyeon that people can taste in South Korea.”
After this decision, in 2017, she opened a naengmyeon restaurant in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi-do, called ‘Pyeongcheonmyeonok’.

 

 

“It looks like this restaurant will go out of business soon.”
For two months, Lee made soba noodles with a noodle machine.
“Pyeongyang Okryugwan naengmyeon is made from a mixture of buckwheat flour, wheat flour, and starch flour, but in South Korea, no flour is added except buckwheat flour. At first, I tried kneading only buckwheat flour, but it didn’t taste like Okryugwan naengmyeon. After repeating many times, I mixed the three kinds of flours like Pyeongyang naengmyeon mix, and I finally got the taste right.”
As soon as the restaurant opened, customers started to flock.
However, there was a look of disappointment on the customers’ faces and as one of them was about to pay, he said “It looks like this restaurant will go out of business soon”.
Hearing bad reviews from the start was hard to take in.
Within five days of opening, the restaurant was empty.
She was all alone in an empty restaurant pondering possible solutions.
“I believed that there was truth in the customers’ criticism. Pyeongyang naengmyeon flavor may be favored by North Koreans but South Koreans, who tend to prefer a more sweet taste in their food, may not like the authentic Pyeongyang naengmyeon taste. So I added sugar and spicy seasoning and less salt in the broth and the feedback was a lot more favorable.”
The change in naengmyeon taste overcame one hurdle, but there was another to come.
Naengmyeon sells well in summer but not in the winter season.
So, she decided to create a menu that would naturally use the same ingredients that are used when making naengmyeon.
First, a broth was made from simmering meat in boiling water, then with the rest of the meat cut into bite-sized pieces, buckwheat noodles, dumplings, eggs, and seasonings were added to create a Pyeongan-do dish called eobok plate.
Although it has been four years since the restaurant opened, CEO Lee is still in charge of kneading buckwheat mix to make noodles, making broth, and making kimchi.
“I once hired a very well-known chef. But no matter how good they are, none of them quite bring out the authentic North Korean taste. Even the customers would notice a change in the taste and look disappointed, so I got back in the kitchen again. I am a chef for life.”
‘Pyeongcheonmyeonok’ does not really advertise.
The Pyeongtaek City Hall is right in front of the restaurant so not only do government officials visit often, but also customers bring other new customers.
Also, a refugee family from Seoul would visit at least once a week, and seeing this, CEO Lee was sure that as long as the restaurant was good, people would come.

 

 

Too much investment in entrepreneurship makes it more difficult to succeed.
To reduce the chance of failure, first, she suggests securing a reserve fund.
If all funds are invested in the beginning stage, then the concerns of having to pay employees and the cost of maintaining the restaurant can distract you from focusing on making food.
Second, keep the size of the restaurant and the menu selection small.
CEO Lee advises that one should not invest excessively in large-scale and luxurious interiors, and to create a simple menu which you can prepare well and gradually expand.
Lastly, overly friendly customer service can make customers uncomfortable.
CEO Lee says, “A restaurant with a welcoming environment where customers can dine comfortably is enough. When questions like ‘Would you like this? Would you like that?’ are asked of customers too often, it can make them uncomfortable and usually they do not return.” She adds that moderate customer service is the answer.
Also, CEO Lee has never thought about profits when making Pyeongyang naengmyeon.
“One should not think about how much profits would be made after selling a bowl of Pyeongyang naengmyeon. Making food with sincerity is the best business. Wouldn’t there be enough profits once we sell a lot?”
For a while, she prepared to open second and third stores.
However, this plan has been postponed for the time being due to the issues of procuring supplies of ‘Pyeongcheonmyeonok’ broth and hiring a chef.
“Honestly, after 4 years in the business, I have a desire to expand the business and wanted to do so. As of now, I have not been able to do so, but it is my dream to open Okryugwan on the Han River. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if after a long day, people would come by the Han River and have a taste of naengmyeon? It is just a dream, but I know I will make it come true in the future.”
Gradually but surely, CEO Lee is preparing to realize her dream. In the near future, one can be sure to expect the day will come where people can enjoy Pyeongyang naengmyeon on the Han River. ​