Most parents of daughters and sons will say it costs more in the long run to raise a daughter. There’s the wardrobe, hair appointments, jewelry, restaurants . . . restaurants?
Won Joo laughs as he recalls the time last winter when he and his wife Kelly found out they were expecting a girl. “Kelly told me that I had to start a new business because this girl was going to be expensive.”
Little Kelsey was born at the end of April, a few weeks after the new Pick & Mix Korean restaurant opened its doors. Won is proud to report that both Kelsey and the restaurant are thriving.
Won and his family have been a part of West Hartford for 15 years, ever since Won’s father, Ho Joo and Won’s stepmother, Amy Kim, relocated the family from Long Island. They sold the five nail salons they had opened there and decided to bring their business acumen north, despite the fact that they had no family or friends in the Hartford area.
After opening and then closing a location in downtown Hartford, they expanded to the suburbs, opening salons in Unionville, Farmington, West Hartford and Granby. The two West Hartford locations are at in the Marshalls Plaza and on Farmington Avenue across from the .
Won is the manager of the Farmington Avenue salon, in addition to being a partner with his older brother running Goong Korean restaurant in East Hartford. His wife, Kelly Kim, is a nail technician in the salon and their older child, two-and-a-half-year-old Kenny is a customer favorite, as he’s been a regular presence since he was just a few weeks old.
When a beauty parlor closed a few doors down, Won chose that location for his new restaurant.
Patrons of Pick & Mix will find an intimate space with only a few tables and a clean, modern décor. The menu offers chicken wings, dumplings, miso soup, low fat frozen yogurt, and a traditional signature Korean dish, Bibimbap, which literally translates to “mixed meal.”
Customers design their own dish upon ordering after choosing the base of rice or noodles, a variety of vegetables, and then the optional finishing touch of protein of egg, beef or chicken. A chili paste sauce combined with either teriyaki or soy lemon sauce in varying degrees of spiciness is then squeezed on top.
Won decided to create a healthier “American take” on the dish, forgoing the heavy sesame oil that Koreans use to saute the vegetables and meats. He also offers brown rice or noodles in addition to white rice as the base for the dish.
Won notes that his prices are kept very low as there is no wait staff and none of the many side dishes that usually accompany a Korean meal.
While the Bibimbap has been tweaked for the American palate, Won states that the spicy, crispy chicken wings are traditionally Korean. “We have Koreans coming from as far away as New Haven for them.”
Won speaks frequently of his father, and the Korean work ethic instilled in him. Won's father wakes at 5 a.m. every morning to clean his house before heading to the nail salons.
Won notes that in the many years since they opened the nail salons, his family has taken only one day trip. “I remember my father saying to us, ‘Do you know why I am working? So I can give to you.’” His respect for his father carries over into his hopes for his new restaurant.
“I want people to know that they can get Korean food at a reasonable cost but, more importantly, I want to offer a more healthy, ‘Well Being’-style of Korean food. Healthy food is important. I think of my father getting older and I want him to stay well and have a good time with his family.”