Risk-taking seems to have fared well for chef Bill Kim, who first took a gamble in 2008 opening an off-the-grid dumpling shop in an Avondale strip mall called Urban Belly. The restaurant became so popular that Kim expanded to yet another chancey location beneath the Western blue line stop in 2009 with a Puerto Rican-Korean street food concept called Belly Shack. Still going strong two years later, Kim has been putting the final touches on his line of specialty sauces called Urban Belly Foods, while also looking to go even bigger this time with a third location out West in downtown Los Angeles. Here, Kim tells us what to expect.
Why the move to L.A.?
My sister-in-law lives there and she understands the market, so we're really wanting to be there. Chicago is always my home, but I think we're ready to branch off and do something else. We kind of shut some doors on what we were going to do on the East Coast, I think it could be a great place to let my hair down.
Will it be another Belly concept?
Oh yeah. We have at least four names—all with Belly in the name. I don't like to repeat myself, so, it won't be the same as Urban Belly and Belly Shack, but we'll definitely have influences from Chicago, Asia, and Latin America combined with the West Coast and what they offer, and their year-round produce.
L.A. has a pretty big street food and Korean fusion scene there right now. Are you afraid it might be seen as played out?
The thing is, I grew up in Korea, so I passed by a lot of street vendors when I was younger. When I was seven years old, I was eating rice cake or fish cake cooked in fish broth. It's never been, 'Oh my god, we're doing street food!' It's something I grew up with. So, even though it has been popular the past couple of years in the States, street food and homage to humble foods has always existed for me.
When are you thinking of heading out there?
We'll probably do a pop-up within the next six months and then go from there.
Have you been scouting locations?
Over the last three years, we've been there 12 times tasting and researching. Downtown L.A., that's where we want to be. Some people might not think so, but look at where Urban Belly and Belly Shack are: they're in places where people don't think a restaurant should be. I feel like we're the restaurant underdogs and we're okay with that, we like that role. [The Feast]
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