INTERVIEW: Mr. Phillip Lee, Owner of the "Kimchi Grill" and "Kimchi Taco Truck"

August 16, 2012 4:00 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Kimchi Tacos
Kimchi Tacos from Mr. Lee's "Kimchi Taco Truck" (Photo: Creative Commons)

If you're looking for some really bold fusion food, you need look no further than Kimchi Grill, a new restaurant owned and operated by Mr. Phillip Lee, most famous for his empire of Kimchi Taco Trucks. Just as the name suggests, Mr. Lee's food is an unexpectedly winning combination of Mexican and Korean flavors.

I sat down with Mr. Lee to talk about the Brooklyn food scene, some Manhattan unfriendliness, and how a food truck becomes a restaurant.

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FoodNRecipe's Anthony Smith: When you opened the Kimchi Taco Food Truck, was your goal to one day become a brick-and-mortar restaurant?

Phillip Lee: Yes, even before the Kimchi Taco Truck got started, we always planned to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant first, but we thought it was maybe too risky. With the high failure rates of restaurants, we felt that a Korean-Mexican influenced menu was really nothing like that out there.

Due to all the business factors of risk involved with that concept and the opening of the new restaurant, we wanted to do the food truck first just so we could get our name out there, get people familiar with the concept and its branding. That's why we started with the food truck, and thatss why once we got settled and people recognized us, we said great now opening brick and mortar.

AS: What were some of the challenges in rebranding yourself as a restaurant?

PL: The good thing was that because we had the menu and all that, we pretty much followed the recipe for the truck. But with the brick-and-mortar restaurant, we're able to have a bigger kitchen, create more menu items, and expand our existing menu items.

In terms of challenges, we still have to figure out the neighborhood, our operations workflow-- and delivery's another sort of a challenge in this neighborhood. But if you look at our menu, we have at least ten new items we don't have on the truck. It's at least twice as big.

AS: What's your favorite item on the new menu?

PL: I like the Kimchi Quesadillas and the Korean Fried Chicken Ssam.

AS: How's Prospect Heights as neighborhood?

PL: In one word: awesome. Getting to know the people and the neighborhood, I think I can say for Brooklyn in general but more specifically Prospect Heights, people have a sense of ownership of their neighborhood and are really proud of their neighborhood. When it comes to small business, people are especially supportive and proud. Plus it helps to make good food. We could't have lucked out better, and we're glad we're here.

I live in Manhattan where we try to avoid everyone. This is the opposite of that.

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