Restaurants everywhere are continuing to adapt to new state guidelines when offering dine-in options. Yet for establishments like the popular Korean barbecue chain Baekjeong, the inability to offer dine-in service was challenging. However, new guidelines have created new opportunities.
While some restaurants can easily shift to serving food outdoors, bringing the concept of Korean barbecue into a different environment, in the middle of a pandemic, was a challenge.
Michael Chon, CEO of Kijung Hospitality Group, which operates Baekjeong, spoke with Irvine Weekly about the obstacles the chain needed to overcome in order to begin outdoor operations for the first time ever.
“In offering outdoor dining, it is critical for us to provide a very pleasant physical environment for our customers,” Chon explained. “That required us to procure tents, turf, tables, dividers, plants, etc. and in many cases it has been a real challenge to find what we need.”
Chon added, however, that Baekjeong was able to lean on local community vendors for support.
“For instance, we were fortunate to get the last tent from a local vendor that met our specifications. Lots of equipment was simply sold out,” he said. “So the challenge is that we have had to cast our net wide in order to obtain what we needed so as to offer Irvine outdoor dining.”
With a half-dozen locations in Southern California including Koreatown and one in New York City, the K-BBQ chain gained major social media recognition in 2015 when the late Anthony Bourdain visited with a group of friends.
It was clear at the time that Bourdain knew about the excellence of Baekjeong’s selection. The prime boneless short rib, ribeye, thinly sliced brisket, beef tongue, and marinated pork collar are perfect starting points.
Obviously, if a dish receives even the slightest hint of approval from Bourdain it becomes a must-try. Since then, Baekjeong has attracted countless popular entertainers and celebrity chefs.
Baekjeong’ Heritage Square location is currently offering 17 tables. All tables are spaced to accommodate social distancing and will be open Monday – Friday from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Baekjeong’s weekend hours are 12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
While the pandemic has presented its share of hardships for restaurateurs and workers, Chon’s outlook remains optimistic. In fact, Chon mentioned that the reaction to Baekjeong’s outdoor dining in Irvine was so positive that the chain will be expanding its outdoor dining into more locations in Orange County and Los Angeles County.
“We have only been open for outdoor dining in Irvine for a few days and the response has been fantastic,” he explained to Irvine Weekly. “Our customers love eating outside in the shade of the tent where they can still smell the meats barbecuing, listen to Kpop music and relax in a socially distanced open-air environment. It is our plan to offer a similar outdoor dining experience at both our Buena Park and Temple City locations in the next 10 days.”
Since the pandemic began, the city of Irvine has offered outdoor dining across multiple community centers, thanks to an efficient permitting process introduced to the city council in May.
Additionally, through Irvine’s Dine Al Fresco program, restaurants around the city have been able to serve guests in a safe, socially distanced outdoor environment.
If there’s one thing that’s been on the minds of everyone during quarantine, it’s finally being able to enjoy a meal with friends. So, it’s great to see more restaurants opening for outdoor dining in Irvine — especially Korean barbecue.