Thursday, February 18, 2010
Ho Lee Chow, Itaewon; 호리차우, 이태원
Today was one of those cold, 'want to eat something now and don't need anything special' days. This, as we were standing in front of the Hamilton Hotel, complaining about being hungry. Luckily, this place is on the second floor of the Hamilton, and that was good for a Thursday lunch.
There's not a ton to say about this place, it's American Chinese food (actually to be technical, it's Canadian-Chinese food) by a couple of Korean-Canadian guys. While the food here is menu items you are probably familiar with if you are from North America (as we), you probably don't realize how genius this place is, even if you have been here before. We come here pretty often as it's convenient lunching for the crew.
The basic idea is this; two Korean-Canadian brothers (?, friends?) who've cut their teeth in Korean-owned Chinese restaurants in Canada (and obviously either made or courted attractive amounts of capital, capable of funding a hotel restaurant) move their act back to motherland Korea, dress it up with some smart but obvious branding ('Ho Lee Chow' really? inventive much?), and take a market all their own, despite how obvious and easy it may be, and still after all these years, no challengers have stepped forward. Why? I do not know. Many Koreans from North America can make a Chinese takeout menu's worth of food, and it's cheap to make. I am saying all of this because a lower-priced, more takeout or possibly delivery-friendly version of this kind of place would be welcome to some here. hint hint, money hungry people.
I've worked in marketing research before, and I know well enough that no proud Korean businessperson can trust anyone else's opinion enough to pay for it, so I am pretty sure that these guys had a pretty good seed of an idea and ran with it, and got big via luck, based on familiarity and good guessing; they have multiple locations throughout Korea, in pretty high-rent locations. What they themselves may not realize is that they're hitting their demographic straight in the kisser; you get a mix of hungry US Army guys in there, you get some mildly progressive Korean families just eating out, and you get Koreans who have positive memories of Chinese takeout from being overseas as students or something, or those who've not been overseas in that way but want to try it based on an aura in popular media, an image of white paper takeout boxes with wire handles. It's the same kind of success that brands like Honda achieved when they first entered the Korean market. You get all of the now-30 somethings who used to scoot about North American college towns in Honda Civics, with pleasant memories of their college days. While many other experiences these people have are inconsistent between locales, takeaway-style Chinese food is one of those things that many have experienced universally.
The food itself? Pretty shoddy, but what would you expect?