Co-Owner & Tribe Leader of Manimal Korea, John Kim, is now serving up the Motor City Secret in Seoul, Korea. With a vision and a lot of determination he materialized an idea and I am very proud to see what John and his team have built. This young entrepreneur has created some great dining experience concepts in a short time, including his most recent concept Motor City -Detroit Style Pizza & Casual Dining.
John Kim is a former graduate from our Authentic Detroit Style Pizza Maker Program and has consulted with others as well to perfect his craft and gain knowledge for his business. What I admire most about John is his ability to take his vision, find the know how, and then build and lead a team to get it done. I always say even though we are in the pizza business, we are really in the people business. John is a good example of this philosophy and you can tell by the attention he pays to detail and the culture and experience he creates.
It was a pleasure working with John and I am excited to share this interview and his story. I am sure you will hear future updates about John Kim and his most recent venture, Motor City, as they spread love for the Motor City’s best kept secret – half way around the globe!
DSP: After travelling to over 26 different countries, you’ve dedicated yourself to introducing good food from around the world to Seoul. Why Detroit Style Pizza?
JOHN KIM: After tasting it for the first time in Beijing, China (Pie Squared) and opening American style BBQ successfully, I knew that this was a local secret too good not to share with the community in Seoul.
DSP: You’ve achieved success with Manimal Smokehouse, and you’ve recently launched Motor City Pizza. In terms of building a new eatery, what similarities are shared between such different operations? What’s different about them?
JOHN KIM: Motor City is our 3rd project. We opened Manimal Smokehouse in May 2015, Manimal Provisions in October 2015, and Motor City in July this year. The similarities that any restaurant owner will agree upon is that the F&B industry requires a lot of work. The number of food service operators in 2014 was 651,000, which means there’s one restaurant per 78.89 people according to the Korean Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. In Spring 2015, there were 630,511 restaurants in the US according to an online source which puts about 1 restaurant per 500 people. In order to stay above the game, we have to constantly develop our brand and team to be relevant in this industry. Opening the first business was the most nerve wrecking challenge, but like anything else I believe there’s a formula that increases your chance of success and only possible through a passionate and dedicated team.
DSP: What is your vision for Motor City Pizza?
JOHN KIM: Our vision for Motor City is the same as our other restaurants: to elevate the standards of the F&B industry, individual growth as well as team development, and sharing our harvest with others. Second is to introduce another style of pizza to Korea and break the norm of what you expect from a place that serves pizza.
DSP: What is the experience like at Motor City Pizza? What can customers expect?
JOHN KIM: Motor City is a casual dining restaurant with a full bar program. We offer twelve different square pizzas along with classic sides and non-traditional pizza menu items.
DSP: What are the most interesting pizzas on your menu?
JOHN KIM: There are several interesting pizzas that stand out, but it’s the flavor combinations and ingredients that really separate our menu from others. In addition to our house made Italian sausage, we are incorporating hot honey, high quality pancetta, braised pork in guajillo adobo, preserved lemons, hot soppressata marmalade, roasted peppers, coppa ham, harissa sour cream, lamb sausage, and bacon marinated chicken to elevate our Detroit style pizzas.
DSP: How prevalent is pizza in Seoul? In Korea? What about Detroit Style Pizza?
JOHN KIM: I don’t have the exact numbers, but pizza is very accessible in Korea. Last year Chicago style pizza was a trend, before that Neapolitan, and now New York pizza again with a few new hitters bringing their A game to the local food scene in Korea. There’s one place that makes a limited number of Detroit style pizzas, however I have yet to try it.
DSP: How have people responded to Detroit Style Pizza in Seoul?
JOHN KIM: Generally speaking the reactions to our pizza have been outstanding. There are a few proud Detroiters living in Seoul who claim that we are not real or authentic, but there are far more people who thank us for giving them a taste of home. Several weeks ago, a customer came twice in one week and left telling us that the pizza reminded him of Buddy’s when he was a teenager. The local crowd here has also given us high praise.
DSP: What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in bringing Detroit Style Pizza to Korea? How did you overcome it?
JOHN KIM: The greatest challenge was finding the right team and partners to execute this project. Without their trust, help, and confidence we probably would have kept opening Detroit style pizza on the back burners. Finding efficient gas deck ovens is also very difficult but we are managing and DSPC has been very helpful in answering all our questions.
DSP: You are a graduate of the Authentic Detroit Style Pizza Training Program and visited other successful Detroit Style Pizzerias before launching Motor City? Why did you visit them, and what role did they play in helping you launch Motor City Pizza?
JOHN KIM: Authenticity is not only a marketing factor, but more importantly a respect to the craft. When I first read about DSPC’s training program, the intensive course outline gave me the courage to fly out to Detroit from Seoul, Korea. Having no culinary and restaurant management experience myself, I knew I had to visit other Detroit style pizza operators in the United States and talk to as many people as possible. One thing I realized while talking to DSP owners was that they were all on board the idea of spreading the “revolution”. I still keep in touch with many owners and share a close bond.
DSP: Given all your travels, what is your most memorable takeaway from Detroit? How does it compare to other destinations you’ve visited?
JOHN KIM: The pride and spirit of Detroit was the most memorable. The number of abandoned house and neighborhoods was also surprising. I personally really enjoyed The Heidelberg Project and Ford Museum.
DSP: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, and who gave it to you?
JOHN KIM: While visiting the Henry Ford museum, I picked up a magnet that read “whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.” This played out perfectly with my original plan of opening DSP in Korea.
DSP: What advice would you offer new pizzeria and restaurant entrepreneurs?
JOHN KIM: Surround yourself with good people. Don’t be afraid to try new things because the biggest threat is your own voice of fear. I might also add, start small and build. The risks of a restaurant failing are too great to invest a lot of capital in the beginning and continue to develop yourself and others around you.