LA Feast: The Seoul Sausage Boyz
The Seoul Sausage Boyz will be serving up their Kalbi Sausage Corn Dogs at the Feast and ensuring that the good vibes will continue with an after-party they're hosting at their DTLA storefront located at 236 S. Los Angeles Street, Unit G, Los Angeles, CA 90012 and you're invited.
Imagine you’re working for the Food Network as a producer for their segment, “The Great Food Truck Race.” The year is 2012 and you’re one day out from finalizing the list of contestants when you receive a video submission from a trio of dudes in Los Angeles who call themselves the Seoul Sausage Boyz. Ted Kim, the acclaimed chopper, dicer, slicer and overall finesser has got a drinking score of 4 out of 10. His older brother, Yong Kim, appears next on the screen with metallic breasts courtesy of what appears to be the lids for something. Thankfully he’s listed with a drinking score of 8/10 and has been blessed with “uncanny microwave prowess.” Last but not least, appears Chris Oh, same metal breasts but his marital status is listed as a question, “what does this mean?” He’s the Executive Chef! What a good sign!
Following this rather wild introduction, the list of questions you asked contestants to answer are being doled out by a masked Darth Vader, Bumblebee from Transformers and Catwoman, although she’s not quite as hot as Halle Berry, at what appears to be a food festival. Kim squared and Chris answer the questions wearing various wigs and masks, even throwing finger puppets into the mix. They’ve got experience. They’ve got a concept (to which they yell “SAUSAGE” and issue high fives) and when Catwoman asked if they could win this competition, you notice that the empty bottles of beer on their table have multiplied “Seoul-fold”, their collective answer: “We got dedication, sacrifice, perseverance, we work hard, we play harder, we got good vibes, good energy and we’ll have the most fun with it. We’re going to put out the best product, Korean food is the hottest thing in America, sausages are the new taco and we want to do this to win.” You sit there trying not to laugh. You were ready with your final asks but now you’re going to have to kick someone off the show before it even started. You want these guys in.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon, five years later and I find myself watching the same submission video that 2,646 others have seen, including that Food Network producer who gave them a shot. As we all know the Boyz won the show, their sausages took them from Long Beach to Lubec, Maine and their successes have taken them even further. A business that started out in Chris’ apartment known for its mysterious allure and conceptual meat caused quite a tizzy. People on Yelp posted fake addresses (the business had no physical restaurant space at the time) along with the personal cell numbers of the guys out of desperation and a need to Seoul-search. Seoul Sausage built its foundation on making Korean BBQ sausages “the gateway drug to Korean food” as Ted put it.
This was a time when Korean tacos were like the unicorns of the food world, hard to come by and majestic, the Boyz knew they had a good thing when it sat on their tastebuds. With a millennial approach to business and without mentors coaching their every move, the Boyz started small with a food festival here, an event there. They had other jobs at the time, the brothers were in advertising and Chris was working in the kitchens of Animal and Hudson, that is until they were “bombarded with positive feedback.” “We were the best of Yelp, we had five-stars with 150 reviews and we didn’t even have a brick and mortar, food truck or anything like that,” explained Ted. As the opportunity at hand showed its true colors, in this case a lovely sausage-inspired burgundy, investors emerged to cut checks. The Boyz quit their jobs and began to build out their first restaurant at their Sawtelle location where it remains today. “We never thought we’d be in the restaurant industry but along the way we had so much fun meeting new people, attending new events and with the madness and craziness that comes with owning a restaurant, we were definitely drawn to that in the beginning,” said Ted.
Following their own advice whilst begging the question, “why not?”, the Seoul Sausage Boyz understood success as a synonym for the organic. Whether it was on the show or grilling sausages out of the back out of their custom Scion (no really, look it up) they allowed their identities as restaurateurs to be malleable as they were shaped by their experiences. “In this game we’re constantly reinventing ourselves. You gotta love what you do here and the restaurant industry will test that and if you can survive that you’re one bad motherfucker,” said Yong. Reinvention is posed as no simple task and the Boyz knew that there was some truth in the saying, "you reap what you sow." Ted happily calls his squad “seed planters” explaining that “we always plant seeds even though it seems far away,” allowing the trio to revisit and capitalize on each scenario when the time is right and the seeds have come to bear fruit.
Although they’re not dubbing themselves pioneers per se, the Seoul Sausage Boyz are inexplicably spearheading this movement of Asian food into the Western world as something no longer foreign, but a part of the cultural fabric. They were flown out to Korea for festivals, events and even to film a web-series and although it “bombed”, the Boyz found themselves entirely immersed in the culture of their homeland, including a face to face with a North Korean executive chef who had cooked for the likes of Kim Jong Un. Yong explained that the opportunity was “really just the evolution of food. Asian food has come a long way even from 20 years ago when I was embarrassed to bring my sushi or bibimbap to lunch. For me, the best thing to see is when Caucasian friends eat kim chee and seeing how integrated our food will be in 5, 10 years, it’s the coolest thing and we’re hoping to be a part of that process and being a part of that process is an honor.” Ted jumped in to finish his brother’s sentiment, “America is ready for these flavors. We have the ability to become the ambassadors where we can not only talk to American people but we can speak on behalf of Korean people and become that bridge. That’s why our culture and generation is so important.”
A lot has changed in 5 years but a lot has stayed the same. While the Boyz count cooking more for their wives in that category of “change”, they have remained humble even when Bobby Flay stops by for a bite. “I really do honestly believe that me, Ted and Chris really like what we do and we like making people happy, we like making people’s stomachs happy. We’ve had a lot of difficult times as well but if we didn’t have passion we wouldn’t have gone through all that, we would’ve called it quits a long time ago,” said Yong. The Seoul Sausage Boyz keep it moving, wieners for the win, a win for the wieners.