Even Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee would appear from time to time with his two daughters in order to enjoy waffles or other sweet treats.
During its peak, the Cheongdam-dong cafes were not only popular among third- and fourth-generation chaebol figures, but also among first-generation idol pop stars.
However, after nearly a decade or so has passed, what had once been a gathering ground for the nation’s trendsetters underwent major changes and, along with it, the popular hideouts of next-generation corporate leaders.
Bringing it home
Aekyung Group vice chairman Chae Dong-seok frequented Ippudo, a Japanese ramen house in Fukuoka, every time he had a business trip to Japan. And by 2011, he brought the habit back with him to South Korea.
He visits the Sinsa-dong branch at least once or twice a month and is known to especially enjoy karakamen, a ramen with soft-boiled eggs and pork in a soybean paste broth.
The store’s manager hinted that he also likes to drink sake with lightly cooked salmon topped with wasabi dressing.
Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee, on the other hand, is a big fan of Kiyota Sushi located in Ginza, a district of Tokyo.
With 50 years of history and having overseen the catering of banquets for Japan’s imperial family, this particular joint serves salt instead of soy sauce to dip the sushi in and bring out the best of flavors.
In 2009, Lee also invited Kimura, the head chef of Kiyota Sushi, and hosted a gala dinner event to commemorate Shilla Hotel’s 30th anniversary. At the time, the price for the gala dinner was 400,000 won ($395) per person.
Maeil Dairies chief executive Kim Jung-wan, who has recently been fast-expanding franchises such as Paul Bassett, also recruited Salvatore Cuomo, a popular star chef in Japan, and launched in South Korea an Italian restaurant dubbed The Kitchen Salvatore Cuomo.
The relatively inexpensive Napoli-style restaurant was once a favorite of Kolon Group chairman Lee Woong-ryeol and other CEOs from the fashion industry.
Likewise, it is not uncommon to see the appetite of the superrich lead to business opportunities in the local market. Aekyung, for instance, has also brought in Tokyo Hayashi Rice Club, a Japanese curry brand, in addition to Ippudo.
Nongshim’s Coco Ichibanya, a Japanese curry house, is known to be thriving in South Korea as well, recording one of the highest sales among its global branches together with Hong Kong.
In a sense, the investment into foreign restaurants by corporate tycoons comes naturally since it is a way for them to reflect their preferences, while also suggesting a high probability for success since they have already been partly verified.
But even though it gives local consumers an opportunity to experience the various different flavors of the world, others criticize that it hinders the development of local restaurant businesses, which remain feeble compared to the country’s economic size.
Food fit for a king
Shinsegae Group vice chairman Chung Yong-jin spends his weekend afternoons near Dosan Park in Cheongdam-dong.
While he enjoys a variety of brunches, his after-meal course is always the same: coffee.
Chung especially savors the hand-dripped and iced Kenya Peaberry at the Lusso Lab. The Kenya Peaberry coffee is known for its rich flavor with a slightly sour aftertaste and is quite rare, since it accounts for only 7 percent of the world’s beans.
“Chung is someone who definitely knows his coffee since he is fond of one with a very unique aroma,” said one employee from Lusso Lab.
Meanwhile, Hyundai Card CEO Chung Tae-young loves to visit “vault 82,” a bar in Hannam-dong that opened in early 2013 and specializes in single malt whiskeys.
The classical yet jazzy bar had been featured by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal for having extremely vintage and high-priced selections.
Down memory lane
Regardless of how delicate the palates of these wealthy people are, in the end, their favorite dishes seem to be those that bring back cherished memories of when they were young ― just like anyone else.
Rumors have it that Samsung Electronics’ vice chairman Lee Jay-yong had visited a cold bean noodle soup joint near Seoul City Hall in 2002 and ordered takeaway for his father.
Similarly, many corporate leaders are known to enjoy cheap and healthy dishes, just like the average Joe ― Pyongyang naengmyun being a prime example.
LG Group chairman Koo Bon-moo, for instance, frequents “EulMilDae” in Mapo, Seoul. He is such a regular that he even offered to buy 20 new air conditioners at the restaurant in 2011.
Meanwhile, Hanwha Group chairman Kim Seung-youn visits Hadongkwan, a famous gomtang place in Myeong-dong, every time he returns from a business trip overseas.
Having opened in 1939, Hadongkwan maintains a good reputation by using only the best domestic beef and natural condiments in its soup.
Although Kim has not been able to pay a visit since his health has deteriorated, he was rumored to have always ordered the large portion priced at 12,000 won.
By The Korea Herald Special Investigative Team