Conglomerates dive into hansik business

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Jan 24, 2014 - 20:21
  • Updated : Jan 24, 2014 - 20:23
Season’s Table restaurant by CJ Foodville in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province. (CJ Foodville)

Shinsegae, a leading retail giant in Korea, has thrown its hat into the ring and entered the hansik (Korean food) buffet business, the company said Friday.

Obviously targeting the global market in line with hallyu, or the Korean cultural boom, more retail business giants are expected to add Korean diners to their business options following the success of market leader CJ.

According to Shinsegae, its food subsidiary Shinsegae Food has established a research and development team working on menus for a hansik buffet restaurant. “It has been a mission for us to find a new possibility. Korean food, which has emerged as a key word of the moment, is definitely on the table,” Shinsegae Food spokesman Choi Hong-jo told The Korea Herald.

Shinsegae is the latest to jump into hansik, which has emerged as a fashionable cuisine worldwide. Some of the trendiest restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and London serve hansik, while kimchi and other traditional dishes have been highlighted by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The project was inspired by the latest success of CJ, which has been running Season’s Table, a hansik buffet chain.

According to CJ Foodville, Season’s Table, which has three branches in Seoul and its outskirts, greets about 1,000 customers every day. Fried pork with seasonal vegetables, one of its lunch dishes, is ordered 5,000 times daily, it said.

The chain restaurant is also famous for using local vegetables in its recipes, introducing rather unfamiliar ingredients into the greater theme of hansik while supporting local farmers at the same time. Currently, it serves about 70 different dishes.

CJ is considering bringing the restaurant into the global scene. The business conglomerate runs the Korean traditional mixed rice restaurant Bibigo in London, which was listed in the Michelin guidebook. “We are in no rush but Season’s Table goes well with the global health food concept,” said Hong Yeon-kyeong from CJ Foodville.

Not only Shinsegae but also E-Land Group, which runs low-cost buffet restaurants in Korea and China, is also reportedly considering business expansion into hansik.

Choi of Shinsegae admitted that the menu development has been trickier than expected since Korean foods are known for their delicate and sophisticated recipes, requiring more time and effort than some other cuisines. “Because there are so many ingredients and different types of cooking involved, the hygiene and other conditions are also delicate. It isn’t easy but people are seeing business opportunities,” he said.

By Bae Ji-sook (