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Kimbap restaurant opened by former Wall Street daughter and mom creates buzz

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A kimbap restaurant opened by a mom in her 70s and her former Wall Street daughter in Northern California is making waves.

Owner Dong Hye Kim, 73, and her daughter, Chihee Kim, opened Yumkimbap in February at the San Mateo Food Mall, according to local weekly The Almanac. San Mateo is 20 miles south of San Francisco.

Yumkimbap sells five types of kimbap: fish cake, beef, Spam, vegetable, and vegan. Along with the freshest ingredients, it includes pickled radishes made from her mother’s special recipe.

“My mother used to make it when I grew up, and I made it for my kids, so Chihee thinks that kimbap is special,” Dong Hye said.

The Kims specifically introduced kimbap as “healthy fast food.” Carrots, rich in vitamin A; radishes dipped in beet juice for cardiovascular health, and garlic and onions to boost metabolism are all ingredients that make kimbap a healthy meal.

Daughter Chihee Kim had recognized the potential of kimbap for years. When she graduated from business school in 2010, she wanted to start a kimbap business, but the timing wasn’t right. After selling her fintech company early last year, Kim was looking for her next project and she revisited the idea of kimbap.

Dong Hye Kim, left, and her daugher, Chihee Kim, right, at San Mateo Food Mall, the ghost kitchen out of which the business operates. [The Almanac/Magali Gauthier]

Seeing the popularity of Trader Joe’s frozen kimbap reminded her of an old dream. As a child, her mom used to pack kimbap for picnics, a memory she cherished. “(Seeing the Trader Joe’s kimbap) made me think that kimbap should be filled with fresh, homemade ingredients, not frozen,” Kim said. “The colorful, bite-sized kimbap was especially popular with children, and her 6-year-old son even encouraged her to start a kimbap business.”

This dream also sparked a dormant passion in her mother’s heart.

Dong Hye Kim, an immigrant from South Korea with a degree in food and nutrition, said she spent most of her life raising her two children and supporting her husband, a cardiologist. “This is my first job,” Kim said, “and I never thought I would be able to work or sell anything.”

Chihee spent six months searching for a location in her hometown of San Mateo County before deciding to open Yumkimbap in a San Mateo food mall with a ghost kitchen. Instead of a regular restaurant, which can take up to a year to open, she chose a delivery-friendly ghost kitchen, allowing for a quick start-up in six weeks. To simplify the kimbap cooking process, they imported machinery from South Korea.

The daughter managed the technical and management side, while the mother was in charge of flavor, leading the recipe development with her years of cooking experience and knowledge.

“At first, we were worried that customers wouldn’t like it because it’s not too spicy or too sweet like other Korean dishes,” said Dong Hye Kim. “But it’s perfect for kids, health-conscious individuals, and people on the move. After hearing many positive reviews from customers, we realized that we didn’t have to worry anymore.”

The mother-daughter duo said they would like to expand Yumkimbap as a “healthy fast food” brand. “My daughter asks me every day, ‘Are you okay? I’m sorry I made you work hard,’ but I’m proud of her for introducing Korean kimbap to the world,” said Dong Hye Kim. “I’m grateful for the opportunity at this age and support her challenge. I will do my best to make the best food in the world for Americans.”

BY SUAH JANG, JUNHAN PARK    [jang.suah@koreadaily.com]