Friday, August 16, 2013

Opening a Restaurant in Korea...Part 1

Brew314 RedFor years as a food writer, I had been asked about food trends in Korea and what I thought were the best restaurants. In Korea, food trends seem to be constantly changing and there are those that come up with an interesting dish that gets everyone's attention, but often don't have the legs to last, or what happens is that others copy what that restaurant did and that place becomes irrelevant.

From my experience, working in restaurants and running a restaurant are both risky. In America, I worked in restaurants as a dishwasher, server, cook, bartender, etc. I also had a small catering business and I made some cakes for cafes. I have always liked working in hospitality and I guess, deep down, my dream was to open up a restaurant some day.

At my day to day job, O'ngo Food Communications, I mainly handle logistics and I do marketing. These days, I don't do as many food tours as I used to because I have a good staff working with us now. I guess this made me a little restless. For years I have consulted others on starting businesses in Korea. I have helped people get licenses, visas, locations, etc through my job and so I felt I had a good enough foundation to start my own little bistro.

I have to tell you, doing this in Korea was much easier than in other countries from what I understand. I put a feeler out to see if there was anyone else interested in working with me and a couple people responded. Luckily, my old friend Patrick contacted me and he said he was really interested. We talked over beers and such about how to make it a possibility. We looked for locations and found a couple possible ones.

Now one of the things about Korea is the Black Money Deposit, Qualigum, which is money you should pay to the previous tenant to take over the space. This is separate from the key deposit to the landlord. If you get lucky, you can find a place with no deposit. However, in some busy areas this deposit can go anywhere from 10,000- 250,000 USD. In some places it can go higher. I found out, unofficially, that some of the women at the traditional markets charge 100,000 USD for the small booth space. If the place you pick stays popular, you can make a nice return just on your deposit. However, if the area doesn't do well, you could lose that deposit.

Other very important parts of taking over a place is the zoning and licensing. If you end up taking a place that doesn't have the right license to do business, you could get in trouble with the law and your business could get shut down. I had actually found some very nice locations that were very cheap BUT, they were technically residential places. Now, even though there were other businesses using locations near it as businesses, they were all working illegally. One of the downfalls of this is that an illegally zoned place would not be able to run credit card transactions, which would be a huge detriment in today's business.

Ok...TO BE CONTINUED... (I have to go to work!)

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