Asian Students Association is proud to kick of our “ASA <3’s Asian Businesses” series with Franklin Street’s very own Ms. Mong! This monthly series will focus on local Asian businesses in order provide a representative perspective of their owners and support the greater Asian community! Last week, Julie Son and I talked to Isaac Park, the co-owner of Ms. Mong, about his delicious restaurant.
What is the “story” of Ms. Mong?
So Ms. Mong was really a product of destiny. Both my partner, Alex Kim, and I ran our own Mongolian style grills [Bali Hai and Crazy Fire], and we didn’t even know each other at the time. Some would say we were rivals. Eventually we met outside of the restaurant and ended up becoming really good friends. Eventually, we started teasing the idea of opening a restaurant together. And then in 2012, my old restaurant burned down. I was wandering around thinking about how I would pick up the pieces, when an opportunity arose to take over this place, and for my partner and I to start Ms. Mong.
What do food do y’all have here?
So what we have is “Mongolian Style Barbecue”, but we’ve kind of streamlined the process. We’ve kind of veered away from “Mongolian style” barbecue, because in actuality there’s nothing Mongolian about this style of food. It’s technically called “custom stir-fry”, but I don’t know. It just doesn’t have a nice ring to it. We also offer burritos and sandwiches.
Did you want to talk about Kumiho?
We are on East Franklin street, and there are a lot of businesses that are dropping like flies. Our food isn’t really “drink-oriented,” as in it isn’t engineered to pair with a nice beer, so we came up with this creative idea, where would deck the place out and do a pop-up kitchen. Our friend Patrick Kim, who’s also the owner of Hanu truck, agreed to work with us, take over the back kitchen, and sling food while we make some simple drinks. You know, just a nice place where people can come, talk, and not deal with rude, drunk people. We’re definitely looking for the more “chill” side of the Franklin scene. Kumiho will be open until the first week of December.
How would you describe being an Asian business owner?
Ever since we came onto Franklin, everyone has been really cool. It has always been my goal to “break the stereotype” of your typical Asian business owner. You know, they just have a certain way of doing things, because they came from a certain place. And we haven’t come from the same kind of place, so we have to kind of do things “our” way, where it still coincides with good business management, but at the same time, not as uptight. We’re definitely a lot more loose while still keeping a tight ship.
Have you experienced any forms of discrimination during your time here?
Not so much here. Everyone has been really great, but when I started out 10 years ago, I feel so old saying this, things were a lot different. You know take Glenn from the Walking Dead, it’s great seeing an Asian-American actor garnering so much love from all races. And before, you really wouldn’t have seen that unless it was Bruce Lee or some stereotypical Asian persona. It’s great seeing how much things are changing.
Do you think that fair Asian representation is important?
Yeah defnitely, I feel that we [Ms.Mong] represent a new breed of young, brash asian chefs. Take David Chang and Roy Choi, they’re all very brash and outgoing. And why would they soften their voices? They carry a big stick. That’s one of the most impressive things, that they’re bursting through the restaurant scene, and just getting so much success and respect. I follow Momofuku religiously. I mean our food is by no means “gastronomic”, but I’m a huge foodie. I love food and more than anything, I love chefs.
I know you hire a lot of UNC kids, want to give any shoutouts?
Natalie Ung is a super kind and sweet person. She really helped us a lot when we first opened up. Jinju Kim, Joey “The Golden Boy” Yip, Lindsey Jung, David Chang, he’s MIA but I still love the guy, Leslie Nguyen, Matthew Booth, Jake Argent, and Kim Hoang are all great. Every student here is such an integral part, and we really just want to be able to thank them, repay them, and show our gratitude. And we’re still hiring!
Anything you want to close out with?
If you like us, Yelp us! And if you don’t, please let us know and we’ll do whatever we can to make your dining experience better.
Joshua Chung (Interviewer) is the Outreach Chair for ASAatUNC. His go-to Ms. Mong order is an XL Teriyaki/Original Bowl, with pork, turkey, beef, pineapples (very important), carrots, cabbages, bean sprouts, mushrooms, onions, and zucchinis. He typically gets a spicy level of 9, but can eat a 10 because he’s a frikkin badass.
Just kidding, see him in 10 years when he has intestinal cancer. And can only eat juk.
Julie Son is a Photography Chair for ASA at UNC. Unicorns are her spirit animal. She is a business and global studies major, but trying to figure out how to end up as an ice cream taster as a profession. When asked for more fun facts about herself, she replied with “Ummm. I really love food. I eat a lot.”