Seoul Mates

Food-truck owner and c-store retailer team up to drive traffic both ways.

By  Samantha Strong Murphey, Freelance writer

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Convenience retailer Hank Kim and food-truck owners Anna and Jon Goree were each facing business dilemmas. 
 
Kim, a seasoned c-store and restaurant operator, was struggling to decide how to best use the extra space in his eight-pump Exxon station in Silver Spring, Md. An auto-repair shop? Expanded merchandise? Maybe a quick-service restaurant? 
 
Meanwhile, the Gorees had been trying to expand for nearly a year but couldn’t find an affordable space to rent. When Kim, a former classmate of Anna’s, came across Seoul Food on Facebook, he saw a potential solution for all of their woes.
 
“When Hank called, it was serendipitous, to say the least,” said Jon. Kim and the Gorees decided to join forces. Seoul Food D.C., the Gorees’ healthy, Asian-inspired food truck, moved into Kim’s empty 528-square-foot space, which had previously been used as a restaurant. They ordered some new equipment, got the necessary permits and opened for business June 3 of this year. 
 

A Different World

Overall, the transition was smooth, but it hasn’t come without its challenges, one being that normal gas-station clientele is starkly different from what the Gorees are used to. “Food trucks have intensely loyal customers who are happy to wait in a long line in bad weather,” Jon says. “Gas-station customers would rather not be in a gas station. They usually pay at the pump, so if for some reason they come inside, they are usually in a big hurry or they have tunnel vision for lottery tickets or cigarettes.”
 
To mitigate this issue, the Gorees have concentrated on using their décor to attract customers. Seoul Food’s new location is squeaky clean and bright. They get fresh-cut flowers from the local farmers market on Saturdays and play a good variety of music. 
 
“We make our space into an oasis,” Jon says.
 
Seoul Food offers counter seating facing the kitchen for three and bar seating facing the outside window for seven. “We thought it would be mostly takeout but soon discovered people wanted to stay,” Jon says. He added three tables and can now seat 20 people inside. 
 
The Gorees are also taking advantage of the large Facebook and Twitter followings they carried over from their food truck. They have a large A-frame chalkboard in the gas station that encourages patrons to connect with them online. They’ve maintained a five-star Yelp rating, which Jon says brings in a lot of customers. 
 
Seoul Food’s business has been increasing every week since June, and Kim’s gas traffic and inside sales have gone up as well. Customers often buy drinks and desserts from the station’s traditional convenience offering to go with their Seoul Food meals.

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