Korean BBQ...To Go?
Have you ever walked past Astor Place and wondered what that orange building was at the corner of St. Mark's Place? Located in the heart of the East Village, Korilla is a hot spot for New Yorkers on the hunt for quality Korean cuisine in a fast-casual environment. Owner Edward Song is redefining Korean BBQ with his Chipotle-style burritos and rice bowls, bringing the best of Korean cooking to his customers in a format they already love. With the five-year anniversary of the food truck and one-year anniversary of their brick and mortar location this weekend, Korilla's large fan base has much to celebrate. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we delve into the mind of a pioneer of NYC's food truck explosion:
LUCKYRICE: You graduated from college with a degree in Economics and Mathematics - what got you interested in the food business?
Edward Song: Everyone always told me "do well in school, get a 4.0, and you can find a job anywhere". Well, they were wrong. When I graduated, which was around the time of the 2008 recession, I realized I was not going to find a job at a corporation anytime soon. I took the time to think about what I really wanted to do and realized the only business that could survive the recession was the food industry because people need to eat. In 2010, I was on Craiglist and happened upon a free four-month cooking class designed specifically for immigrants, teaching them basic baking, kitchen, and knife skills. It was during this time that I thought it would be cool to start a Korean BBQ food truck.
LUCKYRICE: Is there any significance behind the name "Korilla"?
Edward: The name originated from a combination of two words: "Korean" and "grill". I added the letter 'a' to the end because "Korill" seemed too abrupt and down-beat. People have come up with other creative origins such as "Korean Tortilla" or "Korean food Gorilla-style" because of the food truck. I really love the way people have adopted the Korean-Hispanic approach of pronouncing the double 'l's. The beauty of a brand is the ability to connect with everyone in a different way - even the debate about how to pronounce the name or its significance adds fuel to the fire. It was a magical accident that couldn't have happened without our fans.
LUCKYRICE: Most Korean dishes are, for the most part, only suitable for a sit-down restaurant. What inspired you to start a fast-casual spot?
Edward: Our target customer is the Chipotle regular, the Midtown yuppie. I wanted to do something different than what everyone else was doing, which, at the time, was the full service sit-down restaurant. For me, I like things done quickly and efficiently. There is a certain beauty to instant gratification. If you're hungry, you can go in and get your food.
LUCKYRICE: How important has social media been in expanding your food truck business. How do you use it?
Edward: Without Twitter, there would not have been a food truck revolution. Instagram came into the picture and is quickly becoming just as effective because people eat with their eyes first, then their nose, then their mouths. These social media tools were great in helping us start and will be so much more powerful in helping us expand. For example, a boy in Indonesia, through Instagram, might not necessarily be able to buy Korilla, but he can follow us and like our photos. This will also help in our expansion later by quickly allowing us to set up a viable business in new markets without having to take on multiple risks. It's similar to the food truck, which allows for us to test out different neighborhoods. You could say that Instagram and Twitter have allowed for me to have a career.
LUCKYRICE: What is your go-to Korilla combination?
Edward: Purple Rice, Bulgogi, Kale, Red Kimchi, Pico de Gallo, Korilla Sauce!