How Young-Mi Park-Snowden from Wolfsburg put a tiara on her head and brought kimchi to the Berlin hipster menu.
“These were born out of necessity,” Young-Mi Park-Snowden laughs, pointing to the signature wooden construction palettes under Kimchi Princess’ red neon lights on Kreuzberg’s Skalitzer Straße. Looking at this alluring, assertive 40-year-old woman who, over the course of 10 years, managed to turn a pioneering restaurant concept into a successful business and household brand – humble beginnings are hard to fathom. “I had one investor, one business partner, lots of ideas and much enthusiasm, but once we’d spent the money on the rent and building the kitchen, there wasn’t much left for proper furniture,” she says, reminiscing on those June days of 2009 when she crashed the Berlin gastro scene with a Korean BBQ restaurant that was to become an instant hit on the hip Görli scene, while right across town Sumi Ha was opening with her own Yam Yam to the Mitte trendset. Park-Snowden’s determination was sparked four years prior, when she’d made a hit at a five-day designer’s market, with both the home-made goods she was selling and the hand-crafted apron and tiara she was dressed in. ‘Kimchi Princess’ was born and she had a plan: offering traditional Korean home-style cooking in a trendy urban setting. But it wasn’t going to be easy: “Being a young Korean woman, I was a newbie – and then I didn’t have much gastronomical experience…” Growing up in “very German, very rural Wolfsburg” the daughter of Korean Gastarbeiter, Park-Snowden mostly owes her culinary skills to watching her mother prepare the traditional dishes from her home country. “When my parents first arrived, they didn’t have Chinakohl, so they’d use German cabbage,” she remembers fondly. Her passion for food was further fuelled when straight after Abitur, she spent a year riding solo in Seoul – where she refreshed her Korean, savoured the lively night-life and ate her way through the country’s diverse food landscape. Back in Germany, she moved to Berlin to complete a BA in linguistic studies, before moving on to acting school in Cologne. “Those were my two loves – acting and cooking, but my parents weren’t so happy with either. For them, my decision to choose kimchi over a more academic career felt like a step back.” But upon realising that the restaurant was to become a reality, her father volunteered as a helping hand – and in fact became a fixture of the ‘Kimchi Princess’ community, referred to as ‘Papa’ by staff members. Soon after its opening in 2009, the restaurant became a Görli hotspot, not least thanks to Park-Snowden’s active social life and networking skills among the foodie following she’d built from her pop-up days, but also from the Watergate nightlife crowd (she’d worked at the famous Kreuzberg club as a student). “Berliners were growing an appetite for and knowledge of good Korean food, and bibimbap even became a sort of trend word,” she recalls. Riding on Kimchi Princess’ success, the hard-working businesswoman introduced yangnyeom, Korean fried, spicy chicken, to Berlin in 2010 with the next-door street-food Imbiss Angry Chicken, which has since relocated and no longer falls under her ownership. Shortly after, Mani Mogo, a modern Korean diner in Berlin’s tech hub Adlershof was born, and two years ago her Super K market followed. The selective grocery store, opposite Kimchi Princess, offers Korean basics, alongside the Kimchi Princess cookbook and, more recently, a collaboration with Isae Soju from Düsseldorf, the only soju distillery in Germany. Together with her Korean-German friend, Park-Snowden sought to perfect the rice liquor by sourcing some of the ingredients locally and, as she claims, “it’s now better than most of what you’d get in Korea!”