When the COVID-19 crisis hit Los Angeles, Yong and Ted Kim of Seoul Sausage found themselves like so many other restaurant owners. The doors were shut with empty tables and empty kitchens. Friday nights out turned to days on end sheltered in place.
As the Kims contemplated Seoul Sausage’s next move, they thought of the things they missed the most in the uncertain times.
The “Food Equals Family” program from Seoul Sausage came to life with one goal: taking care of family through the togetherness of Korean BBQ.
The idea is simple. Seoul Sausage is giving its family and friends permission to enjoy a meal without a worry.
Each week a new party kit is available for order via the Food Equals Family website. The kits include all the makings of a family meal out - main dishes, side dishes, garnish, rice, and drinks for up to four people. The restaurant even provides entertainment via a K-Pop playlist on the ordering website.
This week's kit is LAFC inspired:
BBQ PORK BELLY SSAM KIT This week Seoul Sausage teamed up with LAFC to create our favorite pork dish - BBQ PORK BELLY! Buy one for a family/friend and we'll gift you an LAFC hat! WHAT'S INSIDE THE BBQ PORK BELLY SSAM KIT 2 lbs BBQ pork belly (pre-cooked, need to reheat), Korean chive pancakes, steamed rice for (4), kimchi, KTown salad + dressing, lettuce and perilla leaves, ssam jang, sliced garlic+jalapeño, an ice cold bottle of soju and a special shishito brussel sprouts medley provided by the Legends Culinary team at LAFC & Banc of California Stadium.
It’s Seoul Sausage's way of bringing a little bit of the Korean BBQ experience directly to people’s homes. And in the spirit of helping friends and family during difficult times, customers have the option to gift a party kit to anyone they’d like in Los Angeles.
In return, the restaurant is saying thank you to those that pay it forward with the gift of LAFC hats. In its first week, five party kits were sent as gifts. And in addition to the five, Seoul Sausage gifted two party kits to LAFC family members dealing with the COVID-19 from the front lines as essential workers and volunteers.
As they prepare for the second week of party kit orders, I had a chance to chat with Yong and Ted about the Food Equals Family program. We talked about where the idea came from, why Korean BBQ brings people together, and how the program has been good for both the LAFC family and the Seoul Sausage restaurant family:
Where did the idea for Food Equals Family come from?
Yong: After the COVID-19 situation started and shelter in place was initiated about a month, me and my brother kind of went to the lab because everything was on pause. We were trying to figure out how we can be kind of reintroduced to the public. We had altruistic thoughts about helping the front lines. We also had thoughts about just kind of reopening our business. Whatever that looks like. So, we just kind of went back and forth. We had a lot of ideas. But the more and more we thought about it, we just wanted to take care of our family first and foremost. The situation was going on for a about a month now and we realized that you got to take care of the people that are most near and dear to you. Which is family. We created the whole “Food Equals Family” program on the idea that you might want to help out a friend in need or a family in need with these family meals we’re offering. Our specialty is Korean BBQ. And you might have consumed our food through different channels, whether it’s a food truck or at an LAFC game or at a Rams game, but we just really wanted to encapsulate this idea that we’re in this together. And that’s how this whole family Korean BBQ kit came to life.
Ted: To add to that. The big component that we’re pushing is the feeding of friends and family. And by the term “family,” we mean like our LAFC family, our cooks, our friends, our family, and our cousins. Anyone we interact with that we don’t get to see every day. What was cool about last week was that five out of the 50 orders we received were for someone else. Not to say that is super impressive but the fact people are buying it for someone other than themselves, maybe someone going through something challenge or someone that might have been laid off and has to worry about their next paycheck, they got this BBQ kit. And during their Friday night, they’re able to Korean BBQ. We also included a K-Pop playlist (on the website), so they can have loud Korean music on in the background and feel a little sense of normal during these times.
Why is the spirit of Korean BBQ perfect for this?
Ted: What’s cool about Korean BBQ for those that haven’t had it is it’s an experience. The server will bring you raw meats and you take turns cooking it on the grill. And when it’s done you hand it to each other. You’ll make little lettuce wraps or rice paper wraps. You eat a lot of different side dishes. There’s just a real camaraderie to Korean BBQ. You have a nice beer or some soju with it. It becomes this very interactive, experiential dinner. It’s a little ice breaker. You cook meats for each other and everyone’s having conversations. It’s something you do when you go celebrate your birthday or your kid got straight As and you want to celebrate. It’s just a total communal activity that families did here in LA. It’s a very celebratory, Friday night experience that got taken away by this whole thing.
Yong: A lot of our friends really stepped up. I think a lot of people realized that small business really is the backbone of America. Especially, in LA. There are tons of mom and pop shops that make up that culinary fabric of what makes LA so great. And that’s kind of the reason LAFC picked us. We offer something that is very LA. We’re so thankful and grateful for our friends who supported us. They started sharing us on their social media feeds and it just blew away our expectations. You know, we’re not making thousands of thousands of dollars. But just the fact that people were sharing this idea of family and for one night we can take you away a little bit. You don’t have to worry about groceries, we give you everything, the meats, the side dishes, the rice, the drinks, the entertainment, so that for a night you can just hang out with the people you’re at home with. Whomever that may be.
And like Ted said, five to seven people gifted this meal. We gifted a couple ourselves to our LAFC family. We wanted it to be a pay it forward thing. So, we gave people that gifted Seoul Sausage t-shirts. And this week, we’re giving LAFC hats when people donate or gift it forward just to sweeten the deal.
What have reactions been like to the party kits?
Ted: One of the reasons I felt the need to do this was when I was just at home, sheltering in place, my brother-in-law dropped off some Korean soup with a bottle of soju. When I had that, it made me feel like it was a normal Friday. It didn’t feel like a shelter at home kind of night. I was having a great meal with some soju with my wife and all my worries just kind of went away. And I really saw then when I saw people posting on Instagram. A lot of people went to the garage and got out their grill. A lot of people were barbequing outside and eating with their pets. It just seemed like a special night for them. I’m sure they were getting sick of eating cereal and sandwiches and ramen and things like. That was really special for me, seeing all the people enjoying it. Everyone was eating together as a family and that was special.
Yong: The fact that Jordan Harvey was cooking bulgogi and sharing it with his family on a Friday night that was a pretty cool moment. I made some deliveries myself and it was just great to see people’s faces that I haven’t seen in a while. Everybody is kind of jaded through all of this, right? But I think what we need to do is make sure we take care of each other. It gave us a great reason for us to connect with our family, our friends, our work friends, our community friends, and our LAFC friends and family. It was just great to feel normal for a day.
How has helping family and friends in LA also helped your restaurant family?
Ted: For us, the biggest thing is we wanted to be genuine. I know a lot of people are trying to get street cred and things. But the filter we went through with our employees is when we give back it has to be very us. It has to utilize our network. Utilize our family. And utilize what we’re good at. It has to feel genuine. Our whole staff really bought into that. Not only did our staff love participating, it became a big part of the programming component of it. Our staff stayed up all night writing handwritten notes to customers, which we didn’t know that they were going to do. Little things like that made it feel more real to us. It made it feel more like a team play. Through this, we were able to get two of our staff members out. This week, we’re able to get three of our staff members out because of the success of last week. And hopefully, we can just keep growing this internally but externally as well. We reached out to the culinary team at LAFC and it was like no questions asked. It was what can we do to help. It’s cool to see everyone come together, especially within staff and our extended family.
How important was it to have the LAFC community be a part of Food Equals Family?
Yong: During game days, we rarely have a chance to connect with the 3252 and supporters groups. So, it was really cool to meet Chris and Julio. And I heard that they have family members on the front lines. It was really important for us to make sure that they knew we were here for them. LAFC wouldn’t be where they are without the 3252, right? So, when I heard about that opportunity, it was just a no-brainer for us. That’s our family. We ride or die together. It’s just a great opportunity because we never got to interact with them on that personal level before. We want to do more. We always wanted to do as much as we could and be fully grateful for the partnership that we have with LAFC. We’re just trying to represent LA in the best possible way. This is what LA is all about. Going through hardship is when goodness comes out people. Partnering with the right people and doing the right things will go a long way.