Many of our loyal readers out there are already aware that Dave and I relish celebrating conscious and proactive entrepreneurs who are working to make a difference in the world while providing their services. Today I am thrilled to highlight a local Kootenay-based business with this wonderful discussion below.
We first met Narae Kang, owner of Kimchi Kitchen, when we spotted a post on social media where she was offering a fantastic opportunity for other local businesses – a free (10×6) vinyl decal displayed on their mobile kitchen unit. A little something for their customers to browse while waiting for their meal.
Coming from a marketer’s angle – I saw their selfless, non-promotional post as a great way to reach out to the community. Dave and I, for instance had heard of the truck but had not been customers yet – once we purchased a meal there however, we are definitely customers now. So are dozens of others who saw the post, they were so impressed that they responded saying they were coming down to purchase from the truck soon and calling out to others to support such a selfless business. So while Kimchi Kitchen’s intent wasn’t coming from a marketing angle at all… the result was that they gained popularity, attained increased exposure to a highly targeted market and they created a very strong networking system with dozens of other local businesses, including ourselves.
When Dave dropped off our ad decals, he also ordered the Sweet Chilli Chicken (see the image), which was delicious and so generous of a helping that Dave and I were fed for 3 separate meals – each! As you can see in the images, this dish came with these large, yellow pickled vegetables that had Dave and I guessing what they were. I was thinking perhaps Kholrabi or chestnut, using a tumeric based pickling brine. Dave guessed correctly – it was “… a Korean pickled Daikon (radish)”, Narae explained. “I use gardenia powder to make it yellow”.
I asked Narae to tell us a little about herself and this is what she had to say: “I was born in South Korea, moved to Canada after getting married to this amazing man in Calgary. It was our goal to move to Kootenay Region (BC, Canada) ever since we got married. Thanks to my husband’s carpentry skill and my enthusiasm for Korean food, we opened Kimchi Kitchen in May 2019.”
As an eco-conscious customer, I noticed the compostable take-out packaging right away and I became curious as to its composition. Narae explained that the entire food truck and street food industry is changing: “The clamshell containers are made out of sugarcane. Yes, they are expensive. But what’s amazing is, I am not the only one who uses these types of containers. Most of the food trucks that I know of also choose environment friendly packaging”.
As it turns out, there is a very practical reason for choosing these options. “Initially, my main goal was to go to the festivals and events in the Kootenay Region – like the Kaslo Jazz Festival or Starbelly Jam. Most festivals have zero waste policy, and I admire their efforts to save our environment. I wanted to join their movement. Although all those major events are cancelled due to COVID – I use wood forks and chopsticks instead of plastic ones.”
The couple’s dedication to the environment is admirable. “I have fully electric car; traded it with my truck last year. I am 1000% satisfied with my choice, and encourage people to go electric. It has tons of benefits. I also have 16 hens and a rooster. They take care of our kitchen scraps and give me gorgeous, healthy eggs in return. The rest goes to my compost bin. The chicken manure is given to neighbours who have a garden and they share some vegetables with me.”
This couple had many reasons for choosing the hard life of being an entrepreneur. “Two main reasons” she explains, “One was the child I support. When I just moved here I couldn’t find a full time job. Everything available at the time was seasonal, minimum wage or the work was too far. I support a child in Honduras through World Vision. Maria – a girl’s name I wanted to give if I ever had a daughter. I tried but I couldn’t support her anymore without an income in the winter. That’s when I decided to open a food truck. The first year, my goal was to support her year around. The second year, my goal is to send her chickens as a Christmas gift (and I am working on it). Second reason is the movie ‘The Chef’ – based on the true story of a ‘Kogi’ food truck in California. Roy Choi is now a famous Korean-American chef, who became my role model.”
Being an entrepreneur in such times (when events are limited and constrained budgets keep customers at home) Kimchi Kitchen has learned to adapt, finding alternative ways to overcoming a variety of challenges. “The first year I opened, surprisingly people had quite a good knowledge about Korean food. Living in a town where it has very little Korean population, that was something to think about. Why don’t we have a good Korean restaurant here? I introduced those classic dishes that people are well aware of – Korean chicken, Bibimbap, Bulgogi, Kimchi, etc, which was a hit. Since I introduced those foods in town however, other pubs and restaurants started a similar menu with the same name. So I had to come up with something else. To stand out I introduced trendy Korean street food – like the vegetarian dumplings with gochujang sauce. Leaving one signature item: the Sweet Chilli Chicken… Constantly changing up the menu catches people’s attention; the special changes every week. Like the Galbi burger from last year – People keep hounding me to make that again… My original goal was to go to the festivals and events mainly. Since these events are not happening right now, I parked my food trailer at one location and open to serve either lunch or dinner Wednesday – Sunday. As I have to travel 2h (round trip) from my home to Creston, I can’t serve both lunch and dinner while looking after a bunch of animals in my house.”
Kimchi Kitchen mainly uses social media for sharing the truck’s schedule, expected location for particular dates and any special menu changes. Since over 90% of their customers are locals they find that word-of-mouth has been their best promotional tool yet. According to Narae, “I move around along the Kootenay area – find me through Facebook or Instagram – @kimchikitchenbc… People ask me to come to certain places”, she goes on to say. “Last year we have been to Kuskonook Harbour, Crawford Bay, Creston and Boswell along the lake. Some restaurant owners didn’t welcome us. Some were very kind. Regardless, at all of these places we had great fun… But it is also very tiring to move around frequently. Now I am staying in one spot as long as possible. Before their grand opening this year, Wildnorth Brewery wanted us to be there for the celebrations. As of July 1st, we will be parked there”.
Time management is always a challenge for the self-employed and I asked Narae to share some tips they have learned along the way. “We’ve learned to simplify the process; use similar ingredients, but differentiate just a few key ingredients for menu items. You learn to prioritize what has to be done first… You face a hundred different situations everyday. It can be that the generator fails or something to do with customer service… or you get injured from hot oil. Hot weather is one of the biggest challenges, as well as cooking under pressure when there are 10 people watching me to make their food quick. There are too many to mention here… But I can definitely tell you that racism isn’t part of challenge. As an Asian woman, never once have I faced racism running my business. Rather, people have my back and tell me all the kind words in the world. They worry about me when they don’t even have to. The great support I get in Creston and the Kootenay area is something I really want to shout out! And you know, that made me want to pay-it-forward in gratitude for the great support I have received. That is why I put up the post on social media re: the free advertising decal on my food truck.”
Networking is a huge part of running a business and so I asked Narae her opinion on this. “When people come for my food I try to make conversation to get to know them better, especially for regular customers. I ask their name and remember it.” She responded. “Remembering small details of their needs (some like more pickle, some want more spiciness, etc). Getting to know other business owners is also a big plus. I’ve had lots of inquiries from curious customers. Some asked if I want to sell my business, some asked questions about running a food truck. Many people are interested in opening a food truck of their own. I try my best to give them valuable advice with the understanding that we are all trying to survive, supporting our family and paying bills. I will always continue to offer good food and support other local businesses.”
You can’t miss this bright yellow food truck – with an every-changing menu that will never feel redundant or boring. Customers will also notice that the staff is not only friendly but they really get the food out quickly too. Even though you won’t have to wait long for your meal, do take the time to browse the many decals soon to decorate the exterior of this bright yellow vehicle – celebrating other local entrepreneurs. For more info visit their Facebook page @: https://www.facebook.com/kimchikitchenbc