BiBi–Oh, NO-O-O!!

Here it is, folks. Meet your new master.

Remember the beloved Cafe Sobahn in downtown Seoul? It closed down to create this:

The name “Bibigo” combines bibimbap, the spicy mixed rice and vegetable dish and “to go.” The restaurant’s emphasis is on quick takeout.

“It’s often the case that foreigners have a difficult time eating Korean food cooked and served the traditional way,” said. “Should Koreans emphasize the traditional element of the food, foreigners may take interest in it out of curiosity, but in the long term there will be a limit to that interest.”


“We want Bibigo to be the McDonald’s or Starbucks of Korean food,” he said.

I hope you weren’t in the middle of drinking your coffee when reading that.

Here’s the scoop. Some of you may remember Seoul Eats and ZenKimchi organizing secret test marketing last year for a Korean restaurant. It was for Cafe Sobahn’s expansion into overseas markets. Some of you participated in it, and it was a good time. The word spread about Cafe Sobahn, and it became a favorite amongst the foreigner crowd. Towards the end of the market testing, which the exec in charge admitted that CJ had little experience in doing, they asked what we thought of the name “Bibigo.”

There was almost universal laughter and strong opposition to the name.

I guess you can figure out that they threw the market testing out the window, shuttered Cafe Sobahn, and went ahead with shoving this Bibigo down their markets’ throats.

Despite the McDonaldization and that bitter tasting story, I would still like to try it out. They’re still obsessed with the “Americans will eat it because it’s healthy” meme over the reality that Americans put taste over health most of the time. They’re not Koreans. These guys have a hard time mentally wrapping around that concept. But after reading the description of one dish, black rice, bulgogi, and citron soy sauce, I’d be interested in checking it out.

But if they won’t listen to the market they’re trying to sell to, maybe they’d at least learn from the failed efforts of their rivals. It got passed on to me that Korean bakery Paris Baguette, which does have a location in L.A., try to rebrand itself in another location as Wheatberry Bakery in Pasadena, CA. Yes, they were able to fool some folks into thinking it was an olde worlde European bakery, but others saw through it. Through bad management (likely middle-aged ajosshis refusing to listen to the on-the-frontline notes from their underlings), unsanitary conditions, bait-and-switch overpricing (sound familiar?) and a total arrogant presumption towards their market, Wheatberry crashed down in flames.

‘McDonald’s of bibimbap’ debuts


Same Site. Same Lame Joke.

Korean Food May Not be Completely Healthy?


14 thoughts on “BiBi–Oh, NO-O-O!!”

  1. Are you upset with the name or the concept? The name is pretty stupid but kind of catchy. It’ll do ok.
    The concept I actually like and see it doing very well. Bibigo sounds like a fast casual restaurant akin to Panera Bread, Cosi, and Chipotle – restaurants that have a loyal following in suburban America. Specifically, choosing your own rice, sauce, and meat sounds suspiciously similar to ordering a burrito at Chipotle. Fast casual restaurants actually stress the health aspect a lot – Cosi, for instance, has calories listed on the menu and offer alternative sauces in salads to make it ‘fat free’. Fast casual restaurants are also typically located in middle to upper middle class neighborhoods, whose demographic is more receptive to ‘health’ than the ‘typical’ American. I can’t wait to try Bibigo out.

    • That’s why I’m still interested in trying it out. I agree that fast food
      bibimbap is a good idea. And mentioning the health is also helpful. But
      the tendency I’ve seen in my six years on this beat is that they’ll
      stress the health bit–usually with some flaky traditional medicine
      superstitions–at the expense of the flavor and coolness factor. Korea
      has some fun interactive foods, but no one but outsiders ever notice how
      those are positives. In America, any food you can play with, interact
      with, or has some interesting appeal, like sizzling fajitas, Japanese
      teppanyaki, and those Presidente margaritas at Chili’s–those create
      excitement. Korea has a lot of those, and bibimbap is included in the
      interactive foods category, but, as someone who was deep in CJ Foodville
      told me, “They still don’t get it.”

  2. Have been. Twice.
    Don’t like the concept. Sobahn was difficult to spell but had a relaxing interior and a decent presentation style. The food was delicious and modern.
    Bibigo is like a cross between Subway and airline food. The interior is bright and designed (presumably) for high turnover. You go in and choose between dolsot, normal and salad bibimbap. The salad is a big wide bowl too shallow to bibi your bibimbap, and none of the options have any eggs. Then you choose your rice — the boribap option especially reminded me of Subway — then you choose between chicken bulgogi and tofu, then you get a sachet of sauce and a sachet of sesame oil. Then you take your tray to a table. Dracula has more soul than this place. There are three “tapas options” one of which was tteokbokki, can’t remember the others.
    The food is poor, the packaging is wasteful and reminds me of airline food.
    I want my Andong bibimbap back.

  3. it said on the article that it costs 7,500-8,000 a bowl. That’s pretty steep considering “real” bibimbap usually only costs 5,000-6,000.

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