Korean food on Smithdown Road? Not so long ago the idea would have seemed impossible. Sad pubs, depressing takeaways and phone shops seemed to be Smithdown’s destiny.
The most recent addition is Love Kimchi, another Baltic Market’s success story (represented there as Little Korea) that has seen queues forming outside the outlet, previously a seldom-open pizza place that distinguished itself largely by insisting on cash payment.
Love Kimchi adds a splash of literal colour – the food is a riot of shades and flavours – and is is the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Hyeonjeong Yoon, who runs the Gilded Gingerbread food blog, and Simon Duffy.
If you can’t make it due to lockdown, distance or simple laziness you can order some homemade Love Kimchi products online. Fancy having a crack yourself? You can pick up a DIY Kimchi Kit in the takeaway – or follow some of the recipes online. Can’t be bothered? What about frozen dine-at-home meals that you cook at home? Needless to say there are gluten-free and vegan alternatives too.
We sent Tanisha Cantrell to quiz Hyeonjeong Yoon about Love Kimchi and why a pandemic turned out to be a good time to open a new venture.
What made you open Love Kimchi in the height of a pandemic?
“When Baltic Market closed at the start of the first lockdown, we had to think quickly how we would survive as a business.
“We decided to deliver cooked and chilled dine-at-home meals and they proved really popular. This allowed us to save enough money to set up our own place.
“We knew restaurants were struggling but takeaways were thriving, so when we found an available space on Smithdown Road, we knew we had to open our takeaway as quickly as possible.”
Take us back to the beginning…
“Love Kimchi started as a kimchi stall at food festivals. We quickly noticed that the hot food sellers were much more popular than the cold food sellers.
“We booked a weekend food festival in Coventry and bought some new equipment. We had no idea what we were doing.
“Our food was so popular we sold out on the first day and had to drive back to Merseyside that night to make more food. Since then, we haven’t looked back.”
How is the menu different to Little Korea?
“At Baltic Market we have to be mindful of the other traders so there were some dishes that we couldn’t do but knew would be popular.
“At Love Kimchi we have been able to let our hair down and really show what we can do.
“We’ve added our Ultimate Share Boxes, chicken burgers, tacos, our Salt & Pepper seasoning, wings and Korean ramen bowls. We also have vegan versions of most items on our menu.”
We’re suckers for the mandu (dumplings), pickled veg and fried chicken. What are your favourites?
“I love spicy food so our homemade Gangnam Style sweet and spicy sauce is my favourite.
“It is a real Korean sauce called Dakgangjeong which we make from scratch. It goes with anything! When I’m feeling healthy our Kimchi Ramen hits the spot too.”
What is the most popular dish on the menu?
“The most popular dish by far is the Half & Half Share Box.
“Customers can choose any two sauces. K-Pop, our homemade soy sauce and garlic sauce, and sweet-and-sour Gangnam-Style sauce are the most popular choices. It comes with Korean fried chicken or our vegan Korean fried chicken, skin on fries, sticky rice and Korean salad.”
It’s a tricky time to open a new venture. What challenges have you faced?
“Every day brings new challenges especially in the middle of a pandemic. Whether it is difficulty in getting our Korean ingredients, staff shortages or problems with equipment, you have to keep a calm mind and think on your feet.
“It’s definitely more difficult to run a business but you have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities. If you put your mind to it you can accomplish anything.”
We’ve had customers drive for hours just to try our food.
You opened Little Korea at the Baltic Market in Summer 2019 and Love Kimchi in November 2020. How have things panned out so far?
“Love Kimchi has totally exceeded our expectations. When we started, I thought we would be able to make a little side money so I could take my kids to Korea for a holiday to see their grandparents.
“Within six months of starting, my husband quit his job to work with me full time and we now have 10 staff, Love Kimchi, Little Korea and our food trailer for private catering.
“There is a lot of love for the food we serve. We’ve had customers drive for hours just to try our food. It’s so lovely when we see a social media post from customers enjoying our food.”
Surely you’re not going to stop there?
“We have some amazing plans for 2021 so watch this space!”
Find Love Kimchi at 333 Smithdown Rd, Liverpool L15 3JA. Little Korea can be found at Baltic Market, 107 Stanhope St, Liverpool L8 5RE.