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Restaurants selling Jjajangmyeon under $10 are emerging in LA Koreatown

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In an era of $20 lunches due to lunch inflation, restaurants in LA’s Koreatown selling Jjajangmyeon, or black bean noodles, for under $10 have emerged.

Some of the restaurants offering Jjajangmyeon for under $10 include Shin Beijing, the second location of Lulune, and Zombie Chicken & Nolbu Jjampong.

These restaurants are packed with customers ranging from office workers to seniors seeking an affordable lunch amid rising food prices.

“We introduced a low-priced menu to target customers who are unable to afford to eat out,” said a restaurant worker. “We started with a small profit with a quick return strategy, but customers came in and ordered not only the low-priced black bean noodles but also other more expensive dishes, so we are seeing the effect of killing two birds with one stone: more customers and more sales.” In other words, regardless of the owner’s intentions, the noodles are acting as a lure.

Chinese restaurant Shin Beijing offers a lunch special for Jjajangmyeon every day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at $9.99. A half-portion of the black bean noodle dish is available for $7.25.

“We’re seeing a lot of customers come in for the lunch special and continue to come in for dinner,” said Youngwook Kim, manager of New Beijing.

Restaurants under $10 have emerged. Zombie Chicken & Nolbu Jjampong sells black bean noodles for $4.99 all day. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

At the second store of Lulune, which serves Korean and Chinese food, the black-bean-sauce noodles are $8.99. Other Chinese menu items, such as seafood jjampong for $10.99, bean sprout seafood jjampong for $12.99, and Lulune’s special fried rice for $11.99, are generally affordable. The noodles are made with hand-picked bamboo shoot noodles, and the broth for jjampong is made with organic chicken, according to the company.

The low prices and high quality of the food have made it a favorite among customers, especially those in their 60s. They don’t actively advertise, but many of their customers come by word of mouth.

“The low price does not mean that the food has fewer ingredients, is tasteless, or has smaller portions,” said Lulu Kim, owner of Lulune’s second branch. The owner also emphasized that the secret to maintaining low prices lies in their ability to significantly reduce the cost of ingredients by ordering in bulk. “Having six Lulune branches, along with ‘LA 3 Sisters Kimchi’, and our bulk purchasing of vegetables and meat, enables us to lower both the per-unit cost of food and the expenses related to distribution,” Kim explained.

In the case of Zombie Chicken & Nolbu Jjampong, the owner, Yoonhee Lee, has previously run a chicken restaurant and a Chinese restaurant, and now offers both chicken and Chinese food in one store.

The most popular menu items are black-bean-sauce noodles and chicken combo. The black-bean-sauce noodle is priced at $4.99 and stays the same all day, regardless of whether it’s lunch or dinner.

The store’s main customers are mainly Korean seniors, but non-Koreans also make up 30 percent of its customers.

“Our sales have increased significantly as customers who tried our cheap black bean noodles came back to order other foods,” said Lee, adding, “We are able to keep our food prices low by offering two types of food in one store and reducing labor costs.”

“As the competition among restaurants has become fierce, with various meal kits emerging, small restaurants are focusing on price competitiveness,” said a restaurant industry insider, adding, “It is a survival strategy for restaurants to attract consumers’ attention with inexpensive menus to increase brand awareness and expand their customer base.”

[chung.haeun@koreadaily.com, suh.jaesun@koreadaily.com]