Youngnam is the owner of Kaju Kimbap, a restaurant located in the back corner of California Marketplace on 5th and Western. She frequently consults with KYCC’s Small Business Counselor—part of our Community Economic Development outreach—on entrepreneurial and business matters.
Where is your hometown?
Gwangju, Jeolla Province, South Korea. I was born there and I came to the U.S. in 1994.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
When I first came to the U.S., I worked at Kaju Market as a cashier. It was closed for six years, and when it reopened as California Marketplace, we opened together. During that time, I worked for 20 years at this restaurant—The Corner Place. It’s famous for its dongchimi gooksoo.
My business opened in January of 2016 and all my waitress friends came to help; we didn’t have the right gimbap equipment, so everybody came in the early hours of the mornings, after their shift was over, to help cut the fishcake, burdock, danmuji and other vegetables. I was so thankful. That was my start. It was like that for one month. Now we have the machines from Korea, so we just relax and talk, but I couldn’t have done it without my friends from work.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown today?
There have been a lot of changes in the last 23 years. Huge commercial development, so many brand new places, and young people. The market where I work—California Marketplace—is open until 2 a.m., now that there is so much nightlife in Koreatown. Twenty years ago, people used to come to the parking lot at night, just standing around talking. They were coming from Korea, and it was the first time they lived in apartments. Now, half of the market’s gross income is from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.—a lot of them are buying late-night snacks. Before, there were only four markets here: HK Market, Gaju Market, Hannam Chain and Koreatown Plaza.
I always think about how to operate a small business. I want to make retirement plans for my business. I have a small restaurant, with low-priced but high-quality food, that everyone enjoys. I like it that way. Customers tell me all the time that they want to keep coming back. When I hear that, that’s a good feeling.
Where is your favorite place in Koreatown?
I like to shop at Koreatown Plaza. They have many stores there. When my relatives from Korea come, I bring them there. There’s a health store (A.L.L. Natural Health), with vitamins and royal jelly. They make some products like yeumching to treat inflammation.