Jell toasts 20th anniversary
One of Korea’s oldest wine shops flourishes
By Kwaak Je-yup
To the longtime expatriates of Seoul, the name “Jell” means something special.
Starting as a mix between a delicatessen and a wine cellar, Jell is remembered by some from two decades ago as the only place to get a real Haagen-Daaz ice cream bar back then.
Nestled on Gyeongnidan Street, central Seoul, since 1992 — long before the area became trendy — the self-proclaimed “first ever expert wine shop in Korea” is celebrating its 20th-year milestone with refreshing humility.
“We know we need to evolve, and we are doing that,” says Joseph Park, director and wine consultant. “We are not content with the success we’ve had so far. We are changing to consumer needs and want to have more new customers to our shop.”
The general perception in the country is that interest in wine seems to be rising but this is still a myth: Korea has one of the lowest consumption rates of wine per capita in the world, even below Tonga, the island nation in the Pacific.
The highly-segmented market industry continues to live on feather margins, making seasoned shops like Jell even rarer and more valuable.
“The only way we can compete is by having loyal customers,” says Park, “and we do that by offering decent wines at decent prices.”
The longevity of Jell’s operation is testament to the easier-said-than-done rule.
Still, as he stressed earlier, the cellar has changed quite a bit since the beginning of the operation, adding and subtracting.
Its building has been renovated several times, now sporting several sections and floors, decorated according to the personal tastes of CEO Lee Je-chun. The deli is no longer there, but the expertise on wine has gained more depth.
Around the store, one can see many decorations that Lee has been given from different chateaus in France and even by Fidel Castro, the revolutionary and former leader of Cuba, for his service in spreading wine and another love of his, cigars.
Furthermore, the wine club, the first of its kind when it was established a decade ago, continues to flourish with more members coming for regular tastings.
The restaurant on the second and third floors as well as the scenic roof terrace (called the Petrus Garden after the famed Bordeaux wine estate) can seat up to 90 people and serves a mix of Italian and French cuisine.
For more information, call (02) 797-6846 or visit www.jellwine.com.