Katianna and John Hong have cooked in Michelin-starred eating places, however their latest endeavor has taken them on a really totally different path. On Jan. 10, they’re scheduled to open Yangban Society, an off-the-cuff deli tremendous and mini-mart that they are saying will problem notions of what it means to be Korean American.
Yangban was designed to be many issues directly — a spot to collect objects for a picnic, seize drinks earlier than dinner or sit down for a meal. It occupies the two-story, 5,000-square-foot area that beforehand housed the upscale French restaurant Bon Temps, which closed in April 2020. The Arts District property has gone via a change that performs with design parts, just like the Douglas fir-slatted banquettes that line the partitions on the second flooring and are paired with marble tables.
Downstairs, a row of glass circumstances will probably be full of cold and hot objects that nod to deli tradition and Korean banchan — together with sizzling smoked trout and cream cheese, and pickled greens. The deli may also characteristic rotating specials made within the kitchen — starting from kimchi and pork stomach pozole to a jajangmyeon-meets-bolognese fusion served over rice. There will probably be Asian-style rotisserie hen slow-cooked over charcoal and wooden, and delicate serve from Petaluma-based Double 8 Dairy, one in all solely two water buffalo dairies in California. Prospects will be capable of purchase canned cocktails and bottles of Hite beer or Krug Champagne to pair with their meals and seize a desk downstairs or upstairs.
A nook of the second flooring — marked by vibrant blue partitions — will home a separate tremendous mini-mart, which pays homage to the comfort shops of Japan and South Korea, resembling Lawson’s and FamilyMart. The cabinets will probably be stocked with Los Angeles-based and Asian American-owned manufacturers, that includes Katianna’s hand-picked snacks, drinks and sundries, incense from L.A. tattoo artist Hyungi Park, Korean hand-knit sponges, barley tea highballs canned in-house, and a makgeolli rice wine that Sawtelle Sake makes completely for Yangban.
The second-floor partitions are adorned with photographic prints — of candid avenue pictures taken within the Nineteen Eighties and Nineteen Nineties — by Seoul photographer Wook Kim, and the alley exterior contains a wheat-paste mural by Korean American artist Dave Younger Kim.
For John, the restaurant is about embracing being the son of Korean American immigrants and showcasing all these issues: “It’s about being proud, and in educating myself even deeper [about the Korean culture], and discovering some closure inside that.”
An advanced style
Katianna, who was born in South Korea, was solely three months outdated when she got here to the US and was adopted by her German-Jewish father and Irish-Catholic mom. Her father labored as an lawyer; her mom was an artwork trainer.
Rising up in a predominantly white suburb in upstate New York, Katianna, 38, stated she recognized so strongly with being white that she typically questioned about her ancestry. (A DNA take a look at, she stated, indicated she was 97% Korean.)
Household rituals included attending a Unitarian church on Sundays; afterward, they’d cease at a deli, the place Katianna steeped herself within the tradition and would seize massive turkey sandwiches for lunch. Her paternal grandmother (“an ideal prepare dinner,” Katianna stated) launched her to selfmade matzo ball soup.
(Whereas Katianna’s cooking can be influenced by her Irish-Catholic heritage, she doesn’t discuss it as a lot — and it’s grow to be a little bit of a sore spot between her and her mom. “She’s truly gotten actually upset not too long ago as a result of I preserve speaking in regards to the Jewish half. And she or he’s Irish. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I actually just like the matzo ball.’”)
Katianna stated her mom despatched her to Korean camps in the summertime to find out about her tradition, however she remembers it being a foul expertise: “I didn’t have any Asian pals. I didn’t wish to affiliate with them as a result of that made me stand out and be totally different, and I used to be simply attempting to mix in.”
When she was 16, an aunt and uncle took her on her first journey again to South Korea, but it surely was a irritating expertise. “I already wasn’t feeling completely linked right here [in the United States],” Katianna stated. “After which, after going to Korea and realizing that Koreans don’t declare you both since you don’t converse Korean and also you look very American, I felt like I didn’t belong anyplace.”
It wasn’t till she was in her 20s — when she was cooking at Mélisse in Santa Monica and met John within the kitchen — that she grew to become involved in Korean tradition once more, and he grew to become her gateway.
John additionally grew up in a white neighborhood — in Highland Park, In poor health. — the place it was commonplace for him to go to delis and partake in pals’ bar mitzvah celebrations. His mother and father had immigrated from South Korea to the US within the Nineteen Eighties. They didn’t converse a lot English and ran a dry-cleaning enterprise.
“It was onerous as a result of there wasn’t a lot assistance on the assimilation half,” stated John, 34. “They had been very Korean and let me take care of not likely becoming in.”
He was at all times surrounded by members of his prolonged household, who frolicked within the kitchen cooking Korean meals, and these experiences led him to the culinary business. After doing a two-year externship on the lauded Alinea in Chicago, he adopted his household to L.A. and landed at Mélisse.
Katianna and John had been nonetheless solely colleagues when she moved on to work at Christopher Kostow’s The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa, the place she finally grew to become the primary feminine chef de delicacies at a Michelin three-star institution in the US. She satisfied John to affix her, and so they finally started relationship and moved up the ranks collectively. Katianna went on to open Constitution Oak, Kostow’s second restaurant in Napa, and John grew to become Meadowood’s chef de delicacies.
It wasn’t till they took a visit to South Korea collectively that they seen a shift of their fascinated about Korean delicacies. The expertise additionally impressed them to rethink the best way they considered high quality eating. John says he initially needed to work on the “finest” (principally Eurocentric) eating places, however his aims had been beginning to change. “There’s the identical worth in your personal ethnic meals, but it surely simply hasn’t been essentially showcased,” he stated.
Six years in the past, they started fantasizing about creating Korean dishes that channeled their very own experiences. After getting married and having a baby, they moved again to L.A. in 2019 with a seed of an concept for Yangban. It might be a departure from the high quality eating world that they had lengthy inhabited. Their concepts of success had advanced.
“Success for us would be capable of put together scrumptious meals that we might stand behind and has the integrity to succeed in everybody and never simply this very small group of rich those that come to a three-Michelin-starred restaurant,” Katianna stated.
They got here up with the tongue-in-cheek title “Yangban Society,” a reference to the Korean aristocratic ruling class of the Joseon Dynasty that basically made the legal guidelines, owned land and slaves, and benefited from their rich lineage. Their deli’s title was a satirical method that flipped the idea of social hierarchy on its head. “Actually at its core, it’s about setting the requirements to your society, being a constructive member of your neighborhood and anchoring in these core values, versus what household you had been born into and the way a lot cash you’ve got,” John stated.
They funded Yangban by partnering with Sprout L.A. — the restaurant group that oversees spots like Bestia and République — via a random connection, John defined. Shin Irvin, the founder and inventive director of Folklor, notable for his work with the Line Resort and Gjelina, helped design the area.
“I completely received what they had been speaking about, as a result of I’m Korean too and adopted similar to Kat,” stated Irvin, 50. “The thought of doing an American/Korean/Jewish deli hit the suitable notes in me. I grew up on the East Coast with all these delicatessens, and I noticed Korean affect in New York and right here in L.A.”
The Hongs have been engaged on a number of specials that talk to their mixed experiences and love for market-driven components. They’ll have a pea shoots and chives salad, their tackle Korean barbecue eating places’ scallion salads. John’s model of a French dip is impressed by Korean galbi-tang (quick rib soup) and Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches.
When John thinks again to his early life, he’s cognizant that he didn’t embrace being Korean as a result of, like most youngsters, he was attempting to slot in. He says he now realizes that being totally different is cool once you’re older.
Katianna used to suppose if she opened a revered restaurant serving conventional Korean meals, she would lastly be accepted by others as being Korean. However that’s modified for her: “On this course of, I’ve grow to be extra comfy with, ‘That is my model of Korean. That is who I’m, and it’s genuine to us.’”
712 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 866-1987, yangbanla.com