mainstreaming of Korean food

You know a cuisine is going mainstream when it breaks into the fast casual and/or fast food restaurant category.

I walked by a restaurant a coupla hours ago called The Flame Broiler (with “a healthy choice” in small print), and I had to go in and grab a menu, thinking to myself, how in the world do you flame broil a burger or chicken and keep it “healthy”? Surprise– not a burger on the menu.

Wouldn’t you know it, the food they were serving was Korean fast food cuisine! Their slogan — “grab a square meal in a round bowl.” I didn’t eat there, but it did get me thinking about when would Korean food mainstream [redux], and make their food eater-friendly to non-Koreans. Sure, Korean restaurants a plenty are great at attracting Koreans, but not so much others. Well, it’s happening! And my a-ha moment about their break-thru was: don’t call it Korean food! Just like the name made me walk in, a very diverse multiethnic crowd walked in and ate there too.

Some people say that Koreans are very entrepreneurial, and they may well be with these startups, just as more fro-yo’s ramp up too [cf. my Yogurtland fan page]. So, here’s where that horse race is at: Flame Broiler has 36 locations. Sorabol has 15 locations. The first Korean fast food chain honors goes to Sorabol, started in 1979, while Flame Broiler started in 1995. Second mover advantage at the moment. Sorabol’s website is much more polished (if there was only a way to turn off that music!) and Flame Broiler‘s much more ghetto.

Sorabol gets a writeup in AsianWeek, in “The Golden Age (Not Golden Arches) Of Sorabol Korean BBQ” and “Food for Thought“. Great to see AsianWeek go to a blog-format, powered by WordPress!

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3 Responses

  1. Noel says:

    My wife and I have always talked about how cool it would be to have Korean food in the food court at the mall. We experienced it once in Hawaii and it was awesome.

  2. Joseon says:

    It’s interesting to read your thoughts on Korean food. I think most Korean food is really difficult to mainstream. When eating out w. non-Koreans I have no problem introducing the more standard dishes like the BBQ meats and Bi-Bim-Bop, but am somewhat reluctant to order for them some of my favorites like nakji bokum (spicy stir-fried octupus w/vegetables) and dwenjang chigae (bean paste soup w/tofu, clams, mussels, and vegetables). I think the latter dishes may be a little too different for some palates.

    Here’s a cool website that explains a little more on other dishes:

  3. John Lee says:

    Haha, yeah, it’s rather hard to get Korean “mainstream.” I’ve seen places like these in some spots (in Toronto and Hawaii and other similarly diverse areas), but of course California would really be the place to launch. I agree with Joseon that it’s hard to introduce Korean food to virgins… primarily because Korean food is like 95% soups and side dishes… Korean BBQ is really only a tiny percentage of the whole – but it’s really the only Western-friendly, too.