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A bowl of love for the needy

Sinseon Seolnongtang helps poor, elderly, African children with saved rice

At a Sinseon Seolnongtang restaurant, some customers order a bowl of rice with 30 percent less than the usual amount. The saved rice is then donated to help feed starving children in Africa.

It is one campaign conducted since 2007 by the food franchise to help the less fortunate and the marginalized. Around 3,000 customers participated in the charity effort in two months starting September.

Seolleongtang, a broth made from simmered ox bones and beef, is one of Koreans’ most beloved dishes.

Oh Chung, 46, the president of Sinseon Seolnongtang and the CEO of the food group Korean Food Developer, says he is just giving back to society the love he has received from customers.

“A bowl of seolleongtang has a healing effect on people’s minds,” Oh said, stressing the warmness the dish can bring.

He started giving seolleongtang to the poor, the elderly and single mothers following the suggestion from an employee.

Oh and his employees also run a book reading program which helps them come up with creative ideas to run businesses and share with society.

In 2007, one of Oh’s employees suggested giving out the entire profit from opening day of every Sinseon Seolnongtang branch to the local community where it operates.

“I first thought he was insane. It was not just some part, but all the first day’s take,” Oh said.
Oh Chung at his restaurant in Seoul (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Oh Chung at his restaurant in Seoul (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

It was more absurd since the idea was the brainchild of a team director who was supposed to come up with measures to rake in more revenue. However, the idea kept lingering his mind and he sought an opinion from his wife, who surprisingly loved the idea.

Oh then decided to put donating the entire opening day profit into practice.

“The donation helps Sinseon Seolnongtang gain its ground in the local community easily and fast,” Oh said.

He emphasizes that no matter where a business is founded, the firm should invest in and share with the local community.

He also pays much attention to teenagers who he thinks need love.

He recently visited a facility where teens who commit misdemeanors stay for about a month.

Oh and his employees distributed bowls of the broth to the young people, some of whom asked for two bowls or more, saying they never wanted to have to come back to the facility again.

“A close psychiatrist told me today’s social problems such as juvenile delinquencies and the high rate of suicide are stemming from a lack of love,” Oh said.

“He said ‘when people receive constant love, they change.’ And I want to do more to give love that kids need.”

His father Oh Eok-keun, 79, is warm-hearted and willing to help people.

The senior Oh never gave up no matter how many failures he went through while he ran a restaurant. He failed countless times while running a restaurant, according to his son.

In 1981, senior Oh hit the jackpot when he founded the food franchise. The beef broth sold like hot cakes, around 1,000 dishes per day.

He was not only just interested in earning money, but he also knew how to share what he had with others, the son said.

Senior Oh supported a professor who conducted research on magnetic resonance imaging by giving around 5 million won ($4,614) each month for five years from 1992.

His son, Chung, succeeded senior Oh’s business as well as his sense of sharing.

Oh Chung also went through hard times but he was able to ride out the difficulties by listening to his workers.

A female employee at one branch of Sinseon Solnongtang who had worked there for five years was among around 100 people, one-quarter of the entire workforce, laid off because the mad cow disease scare cut profits in half.

When Junior Oh visited the branch one day, he saw the woman working part-time there.

“She said the restaurant was like her home, and there was nowhere else to go. I rehired her and she now has been working at the restaurant for 15 years.”

He has never laid off workers to save costs since then, he said.

He also does volunteer work at facilities for single mothers and their babies. He takes pictures of the babies for their celebration of 100 days from birth.

Those mothers in their teens or 20s who have been hurt by men do not open their minds and are struggling with the burden of life, he said.

“However, when they receive the framed pictures of their babies their hearts melt. One time when some of the single mothers saw me at a different event, they first approached me and asked how I was doing.” he said.

“I want to do volunteer work and give donations while having fun,” said Oh, adding he hopes to train children from less fortunate families to be able to work in the food business and help them to find right life paths.

By Kim Young-won (