Why I Won’t Open Another Restaurant In Korea

The copycat culture is getting more and more shameless.

I knew of people coming over and taking pictures of the food, trying to take it apart. I remember back when people were doing that at Vatos when they first opened.

Last year, after I left the BBQ Pub, a friend invited to me for lunch at VIPS buffet. They had a barbecue section with a white barbecue sauce. Odd, since my old BBQ Pub was the only one in town showcasing North Alabama style white barbecue sauce.

There are now companies that specialize in restaurant espionage. They have teams that will figure out the spices and the techniques and copy them. I mean, why try to do something from your heart when you could just “benchmark” off of someone else’s hard work?

The latest blatant example comes from a place down in Busan called Gourmet Zip. The “Zip” is supposed to mean “집” (Jip, or “house”). It’s annoying enough that some people think Z can easily substitute J, but that’s not the point.

It’s not the point that this is another restaurant relying on Instagram gimmicks.

Tower of dumb
Credit: 꿈꾸는 애뚜’s 블로그

It’s also not the point that this is another bad restaurant culturally appropriating whatever trendy foreign food it can.

  • Ceviche
  • Pasta (for some reason, Caesar Salad is under the Pasta section)
  • Fajitas
  • Steak cooked on a hot stone
  • Detroit Pizza

Detroit Pizza???

For those of you not familiar with Detroit pizza, here is a description from the guys at Motor City Pizza in Seoul.

Detroit-style pizza is a deep-dish pizza developed in Michigan known for its thick crisp crust. The square shaped pizzas are the result of being baked in well-seasoned blue steel pans, which were originally made to hold small parts in automobile factories.


You can read the Korean description WORD-FOR-WORD on Gourmet Zip’s menu.

Credit: 꿈꾸는 애뚜’s 블로그

Okay, not precisely. They dropped the word “처음으로.” I guess that makes it kosher, right?

Here’s a wider look at the menu. (MexicanTown’s toppings are fairly random.)

Credit: 꿈꾸는 애뚜’s 블로그

Even better, here’s

Motor City’s Original Menu

We see that they copied the name “Detroit Red Top” and added pepperoni and bacon.

Gourmet Zip

Then they copied the “Jackson 5” with the addition of pancetta.

But come on, Zen. Pizza toppings aren’t that original.

I agree. But how often does one see RANCH as a sauce on Korean pizza?

I’ve talked to one of the owners of Motor City. He is happy that his beloved Detroit-style pizza is spreading throughout Korea. In fact, other respectable pizza places do Red Top pizzas now.

What is troublesome is that the copycat copied the menu text, the garnish, and they’re getting credit for Motor City’s appearance on the TV food show 수요미식회 Suyo Mishikhwe.

Yes, that’s right.

Motor City was featured on a popular food show, and Gourmet Zip is trying to take credit. Bloggers are stating that it was GOURMET ZIP’S pizza on the TV show!

There’s a narrative logic you can pull from it. Motor City started in June-July 2016. The TV show aired in November 2016. Gourmet Zip opened in March 2017.

I wonder where they got their ingenious menu ideas…

Stop, stop. Don’t rip your hair out.

No, no, no. Please don’t bang your head on the wall.

This is happening all the time, and it’s getting worse. Like I said, there are companies whose bread and butter is to steal recipes and concepts from restaurants.

This is why I’m not opening another restaurant here. At least until there is either some legal protection in place or until this is shamed by the public. It’s hard enough to deal with inefficient corrupt suppliers, local business owners who don’t like foreigners in their territory, cheating partners (I was lucky enough to only have that happen once).

But once you overcome ALL THAT and start becoming successful, there’s some rich bored asshole waiting to steal your whole concept and take credit for it, even if they’re making a shitty version.


10 Ways to Survive a Korean Summer

Michelin Guide Seoul: Why You Shouldn’t Rely On It


5 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Open Another Restaurant In Korea”

  1. Or else they will take over a restaurant then bastardize the food until it’s a bullshit, tasteless imitation of the original. I remember this happening many years ago with a small coffee shop in Itaewon called Hausbrandt. The original owners used to make good panini style sandwiches (before the current craze). Then they were taken over by an older Korean couple who first fucked up the decor with tasteless renovations then both the coffee and the paninis. We used to go there regularly but soon stopped once the quality changed. It had been a growing business but didn’t last long after those guys took it over. After then changing it to a shop selling plastic model aircraft, which also didn’t last, they moved on to try another coffee shop called Petit Bene. Even the name lacks any originality.

  2. How’s the cookbook market there? Publishing a book explaining how Detroit pizza is supposed to work would at least give people some chance to try it and give you the last laugh.

  3. With all due respect: I don’t care. As a client, the food industry in Korea is amazing, especially when it comes to local food. Delicious, affordable and – more importantly- low bs compared to Western countries. It’s just paradise. You enter a random restaurant, they give you great food for a reasonable prize and you don’t have to stand the owner smelling his own farts with fancy names and stuff like that.

    It’s true that they tend to adopt foreign recipes and not stick to its core principles. So what? You don’t own a patent on the food and if people like to degrade a foreign dish, let them do so. Let them appropriate whatever they want. Free market.

    I understand it’s challenging for you to make a living in this context and can sympathize with your struggle but I wish the food industry in Europe would be half as efficient as in Korea. As a broken low wage citizen I appreciate Korea.

    • Mostly, I agree with you.

      a.) If there were options where one could get authentic versions or if people tried to get the basics right before randomizing them, that would be fine. In Korea, it’s depressing to not have any options except the bastardized ones.

      b.) The context of this post was to show how ridiculous claims like these are: https://ny.eater.com/2021/1/11/22219032/shake-shack-korean-fried-chicken-launch-controversy

      When foreigners disrespect Korean food, people get upset. When Koreans disrespect foreign food, “They can do whatever they want.”
      It’s like a kindergartner who plays with everyone’s toys but won’t share his own.


Leave a (somewhat civilized) Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: