Interview: DININGSTORY Co., Ltd. CEO OH Jinkwon
Interview: DININGSTORY Co., Ltd. CEO OH Jinkwon
  • Kim Soohee Women’s news reporter / Trans by Lee Ky
  • 승인 2014.05.22 13:13
  • 수정 2014-06-25 21:05
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‘Hand of Midas’ in the restaurant business
Employees are trained to become franchise owners
Throughout 40 years, he has been remembered as a national phenomenon
“Korean cuisine lies unparalleled in the globe”


CEO Oh Jinkwon established NOLBOO in 1987 and DININGSTORY Co., Ltd. in 2003. The company’s major brands include SAWOL-E BORIBAB, ORI-WA GGOGGE, NORANG JEOGORI, MARISCO, HANSIK ZOZAKORI, and SAWOL-E JJUGUMI. Meanwhile, Oh still strives to create a new menu.
CEO Oh Jinkwon established NOLBOO in 1987 and DININGSTORY Co., Ltd. in 2003. The company’s major brands include SAWOL-E BORIBAB, ORI-WA GGOGGE, NORANG JEOGORI, MARISCO, HANSIK ZOZAKORI, and SAWOL-E JJUGUMI. Meanwhile, Oh still strives to create a new menu.

Don’t sell food

That was quite an awkward statement for a CEO widely known as the famous King Midas in the restaurant business to say. Nevertheless, he said he would open another restaurant and make it fly high if he is left with nothing, but KRW 50 million.

He has been in the restaurant business for 40 years during which nearly everyone envied him every time his newly launched brand raked in money. This is a very rare case because it is a hard fact that only 6 out of 1000 restaurants in Korea win success. However, he thinks that probably no one else failed as much as he did.

For CEO OH, aged 63, who has immersed himself in the restaurant business for the last four decades, running a restaurant is not a hobby nor a gamble. Rather, it is a livelihood for him and his family. When he said ‘Don’t sell food,’ he meant to say that ‘Don’t dare to start a restaurant if you do not have passion, if you are not excited enough, and if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to realize your dream of business ownership.‘

“We need sufficient experience. If you say ‘I want to give it a try’ or ‘My wife is an okay cook,’ I suggest you do not open a restaurant. I think you are ready to jump into the business if you think you have what it takes to run a restaurant or if you like the business. If so, the first step is go to a restaurant that made it big and work there for 6-12 months. Beware! Don’t be greedy. Next, you need to find a decent mentor and beg for help if necessary.”


We sell sincerity

CEO OH Jinkwon opened a new chapter in the Korean restaurant franchise business. In 1987, he established NOLBOO whose successful dishes include Budae jjigae, Sigol Sangcharim (Country-style set menu), Samgyupsal grilled on a traditional Korean pot lid, and Yuhwang ori or sulfur-fed duck. After divorce in 2002, he founded DININGSTORY Co., Ltd. in 2003 to build on the huge success of NOLBOO. He started to franchise SAWOL-E BORIBAB in 2004, ORI-WA GGOGGE in 2005, NORANG JEOGORI and MARISCO in 2006, ICHI-MEN in 2008, OOTGGINEUN JJAMBBONG in 2009, HANSIK ZOZAKORI in 2011, O-GUYOK in 2012, and SAWOL-E JJUGUMI, SHABU-OH, and DAN GGUM in 2013. Meanwhile, he still strives to create a new menu. According to him, ‘sincerity’ is the key to success that comes with a rate of 0.6%.

“During a meeting I had recently, I asked ‘What are three most essential elements in cuisine?’ One of our staff said ‘seasoning.’ My answer is ‘No.’ To enhance the flavor, you need good ingredients, sincerity, and cooking techniques which you can easily search for on the Internet. In the end, it all boils down to good ingredients and sincerity. These days, customers do not line up to eat food just ‘good’ enough to eat. On the contrary, people willingly pay a visit when every side dish has profound flavors. A case in point is SAWOL-E BORIBAB which marked its 10th anniversary. People still love it so much that some even suggested that I open a branch in New York or London. I truly believe ‘sincerity’ has been one of pillars of the success.”

He added “You also need to be able to read and interpret trends.” He said “The next big thing is Korean food. To students who want to study abroad, I recommend they major in Korean food. I never engaged myself in a business that seemed unlikely to bring success. Currently speaking, Korean food lies unparalleled in the globe. It will make you a phenomenon both at home and abroad.”

“Indeed, you can become No.1 in the globe with an excellent Doenjang jjigae. Its ingredients like Doenjang or fermented soybean paste, Ganjang or soy sauce, Gochujang or fermented red pepper paste, and green vegetables are healthy foods. I heard that President Obama had Korean food during his recent trip to Korea and found it delicious. As such, we are beginning to reap some tangible result after decades of endeavors to develop and improve Korean food. To be honest, I once had a plan to replace SAWOL-E BORIBAB in Apgujeong with another brand. But since many people still love it, I am relieved that I have not carried out the plan.”

To promote globalization of Korean food, he successfully localized Korean cuisine and opened KRAZY SPOON in Changchun, China and YOREE in Manilla, Philippines in 2013 whose second branches are on the way. Now, he wants to expand his business throughout the globe.


‘Project 330’…Sense of ownership emerges when you become owner

The purpose of the expansion is not to make more money, but to train his employees. He and his workers often go on domestic and international field trips, visit famous restaurants, try new food, and experience different services. They have already been to the United States, Japan, China, the Philippines, and Thailand. He confirmed “The best welfare is to help my workers gain a lot of experience which is a form of investment that provides a strong ROI.”

Also, he has executed ‘Project 330’ with an aim to train employees and produce 30 owners in three years. In March, three of his employees became owners by purchasing the MARISCO branch in Sadang which used to be under OH’s direct management. Other branches where employees acquired the business from OH at a reasonable price include SAWOL-E BORIBAB in Sadang, ICHI-MEN in Shinchon, SAWOL-E JJUGUMI in Suyoo, and K-DINING in Dongbu-Ichon-dong.

Furthermore, employees can become true owners by investing small amounts. In return, they get dividends. “You can’t just force your employees to develop sense of ownership or mission. You have to make them real owners. Through an investment scheme, employees can invest a sum of KRW 10 or 20 million. We pay them salary on the 8th, dividends on the 15th every month. Their attitude and even the way they wash ingredients change once they become genuine owners. The system implemented since the founding of NOLBOO is a great asset.”

The CEO’s management style and principles have been much welcomed by his workers. ‘Job hopping’ is not the norm here. Workers stay loyal to the company. On average, the tenure ranges from 10 to 20 years. During the interview, OH regretted that he had to let go of an employee who became too old to keep working after 23 years working for the company.

Building a culinary school is a lifetime dream

While focusing on turning employees into owners, OH has no plan to pass on his business to his son. When his son returned home from his study abroad in 2007, all he gave to his son was his own diary he kept, two restaurants, and some operating expenses. OH took pride in his son who expanded his business by acquiring three restaurants from DININGSTORY and even lent some money to his father.

“I officially declared that the current executive director would replace my position. I want DININGSTORY to be remembered as a decent company. I don’t care much about money itself. I don’t have personal bank accounts. I only focus on sales and menus. I am not interested in financial matters.”

During his childhood, OH and his family eked out a living because his father’s film production business failed. After OH barely graduated from middle school, he earned money by shining shoes, working at a motel, and waiting tables in different restaurants. While running an army canteen, OH began dreaming about starting his own restaurant. His first business was a ramen store (13㎡) located in front of Anyang Station, Gyeonggi Province. With decades passed, he has taken his business beyond the horizon.

“I started with nothing. I am grateful that I came this far and that I am still busy. I don’t complain because staying busy is much better than killing time. I stay up all night before I launch a new brand. I can’t wait to see the new restaurant. My sleep cycle temporarily gets interrupted. Anyway, you have to be crazy about what you do. I think I will stay mad about my business for at least next 10 years. The plan for 2015 is to realize my lifetime dream of building a culinary school. The school will be established in the Philippines for which my employees, Filipinos, and Kopinos or children of mixed Korean and Filipino descent are leading the work.”

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