Negative reactions to Seoul’s Manhattan restaurant plan
KumGangSan restaurant offers Korean food, or hansik, in New York. Koreans there are not so enthusiastic about the Korean government’s idea of establishing a flagship hansik restaurant in the heart of Manhattan. / Korea Times
By Jane Han
NEW YORK — The Korean government plans to open a mega restaurant in downtown Manhattan next year, a key item on its growing list of ingredients to globalizing Korean cuisine. But how does the plan sound to existing restaurateurs? Not too tasty.
For many business owners, the newcomer is seen as just another competitor — only a lot bigger in size and scale.
The government announced last month that it will invest 5 billion won ($4.4 million) to launch a 330-square-meter flagship Korean restaurant in Manhattan with up to 150 seats. If the New York venture turns out successful, the Korean government plans to kick off a series of overseas restaurants as part of its efforts to promote “hansik,” or Korean food.
“We’ll put significant emphasis on the flagship restaurant as it is highlighted as a central measure of our hansik globalization plan next year,” said an official of the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
The new eatery will be an addition to the existing 20-some Korean restaurants in Manhattan, where names such as New York Kom Tang, Kang Suh Restaurant and KumGangSan have been around since the 1980s.
“There are already too many restaurants that have similar offerings,” said Kim Yu-bong, owner of New York Kom Tang. “Hansik won’t be globalized just because the government gets its hands on the restaurant business. What about all the existing restaurants? What have we been doing?”
He said more support should be given to the established businesses since they’re already familiar with the market and industry.
“I welcome the fact that the Korean government is channeling so much effort into globalizing hansik, but it should first direct its attention to the forerunning businesses and seeks ways to improve and help them,” said another owner of a long-standing Korean bistro in Manhattan, who didn’t want to be named.
“We’ve been around for more than 20 years. Does the government think we haven’t tried all kinds of measures?” she added. “The New York restaurant scene is a fierce market to break into.”
A majority of restaurateurs echoed the need for support and interest in the existing businesses, but some acknowledged that a governmental effort would boost the general perception of Korean food in the U.S.
“If the government builds a luxurious bistro at a completely new level, it’s probably going to help the image of hansik,” said Lee Hee-sook, owner of BCD Tofu House. “It’s going to be effective marketing for us minus the cost”
‘뉴욕에 한식당 너무 많아'
한국정부는 내년에 맨해턴 시내에 한식 세계화를 위한 핵심 요소의 하나로 초대형 음식점을 열 계획이다. 그러나 이 계획이 기존 음식점에게는 어떻게 들릴까?
많은 사업주에게는 이 새로운 식당은 단지 크기와 규모에서 더 큰 또 다른 경쟁자로만 보일 뿐이다.
정부는 지난달 50억원을 들여 맨해턴에 150석 규모의 한국식당을 짓는다고 발표했다. 이 뉴욕 투자가 성공을 거두면 한국정부는 한식 세계화를 위해 해외 여러 다른 곳에서도 한국식당을 지을 계획이다.
농림식품수산부의 한 관계자는 “우리는 이 뉴욕 핵심사업이 내년도 한식 세계화 계획의 중심 사업이기 때문에 특별한 중점을 두고 있다”고 밝혔다.
이 새로운 식당은 맨해턴에 있는 뉴욕곰탕 강서식당 금강산 등 20여 기존 식당에 추가로 지어지게 된다.
뉴욕곰탕 소유주 김유봉씨는“이미 비슷비슷한 것들을 제공하고 있는 너무 많은 식당이 있습니다. 한식은 단지 정부가 음식점사업에 손을 댄다고 해서 세계화될 수는 없다”고 말했다.