Follow up: Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen

Sunhees Jinah Kim 2017-June

By Cristin Steding

AOA is on summer break this week. So we'll have new follow-ups this week with people we've met and covered during the last year.

When we first spoke with Jinah Kim in 2016, she had big plans for Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen.

The goal, she said, was for Sunhee's to not only be a Korean restaurant, but also a hub for social services, specifically focused on the refugee and immigrant community. Walking into the restaurant today, you'll find little placards dotting the walls labeling things in Korean and English -- evidence of the English classes currently offered to staff members.

We caught up with Jinah to talk about how things have progressed over the last year, including a bar and a new patio, and how she's balancing between running a successful restaurant and giving back to the immigrant community.

How have things been going since you opened last year?

It's going great. We've definitely grown a lot. I'm sure you can see the progress of our space, we've opened up the bar since our initial opening and now we're opening up the back patio as well. The back patio is going to be more like a street style, Korean outdoor market vibe, very different from what we have inside. But it's another aspect of Korean culture. It's open now, but it's still a work in progress.

Sunhees back patio 2017-June

What sorts of challenges have you encountered since you've opened?

In terms of challenges, it's a lot of what other small business owners face, thinking about things long term rather than trying and get your day-to-day done. That means trying to find good staff and thinking about a growth plan without overextending yourself. Also for me it's really tough to to say no to things.

Especially because of our social services aspect, we've been finding that we have to make tough decisions. Just recently we decided to close between 3 and 4:30 from Monday to Thursday so we can host English classes here. But even with that, you wonder if we're going to lose business during that time and there's all these concerns that we have to be proactive thinking about in the long run. This will be good for staff, it will be good for business, but in the immediate time you might not see the effects of that.

When we had talked last year, you said one of the big goals with the restaurant was wanting to offer social services for immigrants. How's that going?

It's going good. We've been having a lot of partnerships with a lot of different nonprofits, like Capital Roots for example, but we've also done a lot of advocacy work. So this restaurant has really become a platform for speaking on behalf of immigrants and telling stories of those who may have been untold. Even yesterday I was helping people developing resumes. English classes are still small and starting out. And actually one of my staff, myself and a couple of team members, we got a marathon running team together and we want to fundraise to do a computer literacy class, and provide laptops and internet access for newly arrived refugees. We're getting more ideas out there and as things get established I'm finding more time to focus my energy on those things.

What's something that you've learned that's surprised you, or something you might not have expected when you first opened?

Honestly as much as people told me the restaurant industry is tough, I don't think I fully realized that. And what surprised me most was having to come to terms with the fact that I have limited supplies of energy. When I started I was like "I can do everything and be everywhere", but I'm learning that I can't really do that. I'm learning I can't do 15, 18 hour days every day.

I also always knew that food was this powerful tool, but I was really blown away receptive people in the community were to something new and something Korean. And also what an impact that food has on people's lives and how it brings people together. I thought I was originally overestimating it, but I was actually underestimating the power of food.

I also always knew that food was this powerful tool, but I was really blown away receptive people in the community were to something new and something Korean. And also what an impact that food has on people's lives and how it brings people together. I thought I was originally overestimating it, but I was actually underestimating the power of food.

Have you had a particular frustration that you wish you could just wipe away?

I really don't have anything I would wipe away. There are definitely challenges and frustrations, especially in the day-to-day. Even just having to be so meticulous in training staff and feeling like I have to do everything myself sometimes... But I think all of that is a learning process for me and I see value in that frustration. So it's hard to say. I definitely wouldn't wipe away anything.

What's something that's happened or a development that feels like a win for you?

This is going back to what we were talking about, being a voice for immigrants, and I think that the more I do this, the more I realize it's the little things in life. It's not the big win or the "Hey, we were in the news for this," or the media attention for different things. For me, it's the small things -- just having a nice conversation with a staff member, and learning why they came here. Or every time we have staff parties, that's always a huge win for me. Seeing the people from different cultures being in the same room and sharing in different foods together.

I just had a previous kitchen manager who bought a couple buildings in Troy and he wants to start his own business. So for me, those are the wins that go untold or you don't see it highlighted in the news, but it's those small things that keep me going.

Sunhees on the streets sign 2017-June

What's next?

We have the back patio, which is new.

And we're going to start doing farm visits to Cambridge. You're going to get a traditional Korean country style dinner with Korean barbecue. We're also going to do a pick-and-make-your-own kimchi, so depending on what's in season you'll pick it from the fields and then we'll teach you how to make kimchi out of it. And that's right on the spot and you'll be able to take it home with you. Transportation will be provided, it will be an all-inclusive thing. So we're looking to launch that soon, and hopefully go into urban farming even. There's a lot of strings being pulled right now.

This interview has been lightly edited for length.
____

Cristin Steding is a freelance writer and founder of Upstate Club, a guide to outdoor living in upstate New York. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Find It

Sunhee's Farm and Kitchen
95-97 Ferry Street
Troy, NY 12180

Comments

I totally support what Sunhee is doing, but these answers suggest they may not realize they have some serious service issues because of their popularity.

The last two visits I've waited well over an hour for food which definitely diminishes the experience no matter how much you rally behind the mission.

One simple fix would be to serve a party's appetizers first, rather than sending them out with the rest of the food so they're not really appetizers any more.

I just went to Sunhee's the other night! Friends were visiting from out of town and remembered it from their last visit - and wanted to go again. :)
Our biggest issue was figuring out which meal to have this time. No line, no long wait, great food.
I can't wait to see what this kimchi event offers. Sounds soo cool :)

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