Erik Park may be a math-teacher-turned-chef, but doesn’t always believe the numbers. When a con-artist was hired on as a contractor, work on the restaurant stagnated and Park’s Korean-Mexican concept seemed destined for doom.
“For eight months we had a ‘Coming Soon’ sign out… The landlord finally said in October, ‘If you don’t open by October, we’re going to cancel your lease,’” Park said.
Undeterred by ultimatums, Park opened the restaurant on October 30, 2010.
“We rushed it. We opened, but then when we did open, the contractor took all of equipment and the money and he ran away and I’ve never seen him again after that. So we didn’t have a Vent-a-Hood, we didn’t have a grill, we didn’t have a fryer, but we opened. For the first three months we used this tabletop grill and it was hell.”
The grill could hardly keep itself warm, let alone satisfy a hungry crowd. Bloggers wrote obituaries, but Park held on until he could repurchase his swindled equipment. One would expect Park to be a steely, cutthroat chef yet the rhythm of his speech and his easy-going demeanor reflect on his West-Coast upbringing.
That’s not to say that life was easy in Los Angeles. Park worked as a high school algebra and geometry teacher in Los Angeles before moving to Dallas and starting his own math tutoring center.
Some of Park’s students moseyed into Kor-BQ, fast-food burgers in hand, and asked for Park to squeeze some of his french fry sauce on their burger. It was sacrilege, but the unholy union satiated the student’s tastes. The menu at Kor-BQ is no less unholy. It features eggrolls stuffed with noodles and Korean barbeque and a special including a hash brown patty, barbeque, cheese and a fried egg between two buns. How a math teacher morphed into a mad scientist is inexplicable until his past is examined.
“I’m from LA and I grew up in Korea on a US military base. So I actually grew up in Korea living an American lifestyle with American food. I grew up with fusion foods. My mom would give lasagna and kimchee. I never knew that stroganoff was over noodles until I went to college and my friends ordered it and they came over noodles. I was like, “What the hell is that?” because my mom would serve it over rice.”
Park ate like a typical college student (Spam and eggs were a favorite), and treated his palette like the ultimate playground.
“In college when I was in a frat I was the go-to guy of mixing stuff together … I’ve always been around food, creating food and trying new things together.”
The most original item on Kor-BQ’s menu must be The Sloppy. Whether it is animal, vegetable, mineral, Korean, Mexican or American remains unanswered. Whatever it is, it’s drawn the attention of Park’s customers.
“I invented The Sloppy when I got so sick and tired of tacos… It’s toasted hamburger buns, your choice of meat grilled and [mozzarella] cheese melted with the meat on the grill. It comes on top of slaw and you can add a fried egg on top. I’d say about 90% of customers get that fried egg. That became a big hit.”
Park’s magnum opus has recently become more, well … magnum. The Sloppy on Steroids adds a hash brown patty with sweet/spicy sauce into the mix. Of course, the compulsory fried egg is also an add-on.
Despite the unorthodox offerings on the menu, Kor-BQ’s tacos and rice bowls hold fast to Korean tradition. This is one area where Park refuses to give in to outside opinions. His barbeque stays true to tradition, using a tortilla as a food delivery method instead of a compensatory component.
“Mexican cuisine is a great venue for the Korean barbeque meat to come out. What people think about is ground beef or ground chicken in a taco. We want to take that to another level and show them that the meat can stand out in a taco and be the star.”
Customers can choose to load up their tacos or Korean quesadillas with short ribs, rib eye, pork or chicken. Each is marinated in a secret blend that tenderizes the meat. Kor-BQ has gone through its own tenderization. It’s been beaten within an inch of death by a swindler and pounded on by city codes, but Park has emerged as a proven pugilist and his restaurant as a promising concept. The creative, sometimes wacky dishes show that although he may be put in a tight spot, he’ll always come up with something.