Three years ago, on a rainy night at the Wynwood Yard, 2 Korean Girls was conceived.
Jennifer Kaminski, who opened the delivery-and-takeout-only restaurant with her sister Michele this past December, says she put together the idea for the restaurant in a matter of a few hours after hearing that Wynwood Yard cofounder Della Heiman was hosting a pitch session for young restaurateurs to present their ideas and receive real-time feedback from hospitality veterans.
Both sisters had spent their teen years helping their mother, Chom "Sunny" Kaminski, at her restaurant outside South Bend, Indiana, but they'd taken a different tack with their lives.
Jennifer had started a marketing company in Miami called Social Thinkking, and Michele was a successful event planner in Chicago and Miami. Still, one thing compelled the sisters to enter the competition and start a career in the restaurant industry: the lack of a good bibimbap in Miami. The dish, a Korean bowl wherein warm white rice is topped with kimchi, vegetables, meat, and a fried egg, is what Jennifer calls "last meal worthy" — and she was missing her mother's cooking.
"In Miami, if there's an Asian fusion restaurant, there's something like a bibimbap on the menu, but none have been outstanding. There was one time I ordered one and the egg was cooked like an omelet. Let's just say I was disgruntled."
Jennifer, now 41, and Michele, 36 began by making the dish they longed for, using the recipes that their mother taught them, and inviting friends to dinner. "It's a laborious process to prep the vegetables, but it's a labor of love," Jennifer says of the steps required to make this soulful dish, whose name combines the Korean terms for "mixed" (bibim) and "rice" (bap).
When Wynwood Yard called for restaurant ideas, the sisters created a pitch deck for a fictitious bibimbap restaurant. Despite the two women's expertise in marketing, naming the endeavor proved a challenge.
"We used the name 2 Korean Girls as a working title. Basically because we were two Korean girls," Jennifer says without irony.
The pitch was well received. When the pleasant surprise of actually having something wore off, the sisters realized they'd need help if they wanted to get a restaurant off the ground.
First they called their mother to get permission to use her recipes.
Then they called Allen Susser.
The 64-year-old owner of Chef Allen's Consulting is one of the original members of the "Mango Gang," a cadre of chefs who put Miami on the culinary map in the 1980s and '90s by creating menus made with local ingredients (mangos included).
Jennifer had worked on the annual Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry fundraising extravaganza, Taste of the Nation, as a pro bono media sponsor. Susser is honorary founding chair of the event. But approaching the chef for mentorship was a different story.
"I called Chef Allen and asked him to be honest: Was this a really stupid idea?" Jennifer recounts.
Susser recalls his immediate reaction: "The first thing I told her is that you're crazy if you want to start a restaurant. The second thing I said was, 'This is a great idea.'
"Jennifer and Michele were very focused," he adds. "The menu was short and sweet and it had its own story. People should know what they get and the story should enhance the experience."
The sisters went to work on creating an entire restaurant from a PowerPoint, all the while continuing to work at their day jobs. Though they had culinary experience in their DNA, their only practical experience came from their mother's restaurant.
"It was one of those things when you have a family business — from the time we could work legally, we helped out," Michele confides. "But we both never wanted to open a restaurant, though I never strayed too far from the trade. I started working in restaurant marketing in Chicago, so hospitality was something ingrained in me."
When COVID hit and restaurants closed their dining rooms, the Kaminskis saw a way forward. Instead of a small café, they'd open a version of 2 Korean Girls that was takeout and delivery only. The thinking, Jennifer says, was that bibimbap are comforting rice bowls that travel well: "They're fresh, they're delicious, and they're made with heritage recipes."
Adds Susser: "This is based on tradition and culture we haven't seen in Miami much. It's real food and the timing was right."
Susser, who'd officially taken on the post of culinary and business consultant, helped the Kaminskis find a space across from the Mayfair in Coconut Grove that was outfitted with a huge industrial kitchen and then to adapt the family recipes into ones that worked for delivery and pickup.
He says his main duty was to help the women avoid the major pitfalls of opening a restaurant.
"I will let them make mistakes. I don't let them fall too deep into the ditch," he says.
2 Korean Girls opened quietly just before Christmas with a concise menu that includes bibimbap variations with catchy names like "Fish Better Have My Money" (a bowl with cod that's festooned with gold foil) and "Phat Buddha" (a vegetable bowl). Want to customize a bowl? Opt for the "Do You," where you pick your ingredients. Priced at $15 and up, bowls are topped with a perfect heart-shaped fried egg and delivered in a pink-and-white box decorated with cartoon versions of the 2 Korean Girls.
Jennifer says those final K-pop touches were added after she and Michele traveled to Seoul on a research trip. "From the name of our restaurant to the aesthetics, this is how modern Korean restaurants are doing things," she reports.
Beneath the adorable wrappings, the bowls are filled with good, simple ingredients like marinated mung bean sprouts, rib-eye steak, and shredded zucchini. The bowls pop with the addition of gochujang, a sweet and savory chili paste that's more tingly than hot, or a tart and refreshing cucumber kimchi.
In these frustrating times, it's also cathartic to mash the happy heart-shaped egg into the perfectly arranged ingredients, deconstructing and destroying the symmetry of the bowl before devouring it in the privacy of your own abode.
2 Korean Girls, with its not-so-faceless version of a ghost kitchen, is a business model for these "new normal times," says Susser, who admits he may have learned more from the Kaminskis than they learned from him.
"This is a new generation of restaurants and a brand-new way of doing things into the 21st century," he offers. "It's a changed world. I had to learn about ghost kitchens, social marketing, and the excitement it generates."
The collaboration between the old guard of fine dining and the new generation of virtual restaurants is, according to Susser, where restaurateurs need to be in order to succeed in the present — and the future.
"People still want to go out, and I think there's a space for fine dining — but's it's a space for only the few who do it well," says the former top chef. "On the other hand, the combination of culinary and business that it takes to open this next generation of restaurants is where the magic is happening.
"At the end of the day, however, a chef is a chef is a chef," he concludes.
2 Korean Girls. 2801A Florida Ave., Coconut Grove; 305-204-2372; 2koreangirls.com. Monday to Saturday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Delivery and pick-up only. No dine-in service.
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