Locally, BCD has contributed meals. In May, the chain dealt with KYCC to provide 80 meals to low-income elders. With the pandemic showing no signs of receding, there are strategies to revive the collaboration.
A bubbling bowl of soondubu jigae topped with an egg. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee).
Daniel Gray Lee states his food tours in Seoul would bring in Americans who had actually been to BCD dining establishments in Los Angeles and firmly insisted on going to the one in Seoul, which they believed was the initial.
Her oldest son, Dr. Eddie Lee, has actually taken over for his mother as interim CEO. Trained as an internist, he has actually spent the last 3 years working part-time as a physician so he might serve as BCDs vice president.
” You could get a really excellent, soul-restoring bowl of soup to complete your night. As industry individuals began finding it, word-of-mouth about it started coming out a bit more,” Cho says.
BCD Tofu House creator Hee Sook Lee stands in front of the logo design for her famous dining establishment. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee).
” We d go to any restaurant and we d constantly be critiquing the food. Eddie states.
” Its like down-home food,” stated Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, chef and author of Quick & & Easy Korean Cooking: More Than 70 Everyday Recipes. “You make it to have something warm and spicy in the winter. This isnt what you serve to visitors.”.
In 2013, BCDs image took a struck when the chain and Hee Sook Lee were named in a class action claim submitted by numerous staff members who alleged they had actually experienced wage theft. A 2015 settlement granted $3 million to the workers.
BCD also won fans thanks to Lees savvy organization decisions. For one thing, the cost point was always excellent. Today, a bowl of soondubu and all the sides runs you about $14.
” I literally didnt see her for a year,” Eddie says. “Thats simply my mother. Its like theres no middle ground when she does something. You do it all the way.”.
” NO MIDDLE GROUND”.
Crisp, fried yellow croaker fish, known as jogi, accompanies the soondubu jigae at BCD Tofu House. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee ).
Initially, the late-night BCD crowd was primarily Asian but that started to change as Korean kids at UCLA and USC brought their non-Asian friends to the restaurant after a night of clubbing or bar-hopping.
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel befriended Lee in 2003, when she was gathering a group of popular Korean American to meet Carly Fiorina, then the CEO of Hewlett Packard.
” After BCD, they would desire to attempt other restaurants. They would wish to enjoy Korean TV shows. It made them want to concern Korea,” Lee states.
The exterior of the initial BCD Tofu House, on Wilshire Blvd. in Koreatown. August 2020. (Elina Shatkin/LAist).
Eddie Lee describes the claim as a difficult time for his mother.
At BCD Tofu House, consumers are served rice thats blistered on the bottom in earthenware bowls. (Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee).
” Theres a lot pride there when somebody is able to do that abroad. It simply makes individuals extremely happy with their culture and their customs,” Grey states.
According to her kid Eddie, the proverbial lightbulb went off one Sunday during church.
Lee had named her restaurant after Buk Chang Dong, the Seoul area where her husbands aunt had owned a soondubu restaurant. Her spouse, Tae-Ro, a lawyer-turned-businessman always supported his other halfs endeavors, even as her restaurants eclipsed his. He was a big help as she checked foods in the kitchen area.
Lee was used to putting others. When she remained in middle school, her father suffered a stroke so Lee had avoided college to work. She desired to assist her mom who had actually been cleaning meals in dining establishments and selling products in the flea market to support her four daughters. Lee was the second earliest but, according to household tradition, the most responsible so her mother told her, “You are the son of the household now.”.
” She has a really mild smile however behind that, she has nerves of steel. Shes one of the very best arbitrators Ive ever seen,” Eddie states.
She would go to their table to greet them in Korean and send out over complimentary meals.
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” Many Korean immigrants were producing effective restaurant services here,” Lee said in an interview for Seoul of LA. “I felt great that I could do well with this service if I dealt with Korean food.”.
The late hours likewise drew dining establishment and bar workers from outside Koreatown.
Eddie Lee says his mommy was always searching for methods to differentiate her dining establishments from the competition. The soondubu came with jogi– a whole, fried yellow croaker fish.
At the time of the launch, the family was temporarily living in Las Vegas. Being in another city didnt stop Lee from supervising every aspect of her new organization.
BCD Tofu House founder Hee Sook Lee remained associated with business even as she waged a six-year battle against cancer. (Courtesy of Michelle Steel).
Soondubu is a humble dish however Lee believed she could offer it in the U.S. as the primary event.
Steel, who is garrulous and outbound, was immediately drawn to the quieter Lee. They found their birthdays were 3 days apart and began celebrating them together.
That “sibling” isnt so little any longer but Eddie has actually made it his task to care for his mothers child for her.
Eddie describes his mommy as a social introvert however one who enjoyed playing host and bringing the Koreatown neighborhood together through food. She was also a “enthusiastic perfectionist” who thrilled over perfectly-seasoned kimchi and a smart company owner to bargain over everything from produce prices to contracts and rents.
He and his siblings would get hungry while being in the benches of the Berendo Street Baptist Church. After the service, they would shout to go to a close-by restaurant for soondubu.
In 1996, Lee opened her very first BCD Tofu House on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown. There, she fine-tuned her secret mix of broth and spices.
Writer Katherine Kim says after she recently ended up interviewing a senior homeless couple in her job as senior interactions editor for Koreatown Youth + Community Center, she asked where she might treat them to lunch. The spouse quickly asked for the BCD Tofu House on Western.
In the last 3 years, as Lees family members convinced her to step back from the company and focus on her health, Eddie handled more of the daily responsibilities. His mom, nevertheless, still liked to check out the dining establishments.
When BCD Tofu House founder Hee Sook Lee arrived in Los Angeles in 1989, she didnt pertain to introduce a Korean restaurant empire. Or to offer BCD soup starter sets at H-Mart. Or to produce a cultural example for Korean kids growing up in L.A. She concerned the United States so her kids could master English.
If she were alive, he states she d be believing about where to open the next BCD place. She d also be believing of more ways to innovate.
When Korean stars revealed up at the dining establishment however it likewise made perfect sense, it was always a pleased surprise. After Parasite won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Golden Globes, Bong Joon Ho and his group wound up at the BCD station on Wilshire.
In numerous Seoul restaurants, soondubu is as ubiquitous as “chicken tenders and french fries or spaghetti bolognese,” states Daniel Lee Gray, who runs food trips throughout South Korea.
He says his mother has actually cared deeply for her staff members and keeps in mind the business has actually continued to provide health benefits to its staff members, including those who have been laid-off, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Eddie, BCD has actually utilized a few of the cash it received from a PPP loan to keep servers salaries at their pre-pandemic level, including what they wouldve made in suggestions.
The BCD sign shone into the night and garment workers werent the only ones drawn to it.
Not only does BCD hold an unique location of honor among the Korean diaspora, it has also captured the popular imagination of individuals in South Korea. Take a look at the superstars on Korean range programs.
BCD likewise won fans thanks to Lees savvy company choices. And I believe there were some mistakes,” Lee states.
Lee passed away July 18 at age 61 after a six-year-long battle with ovarian cancer.
When BCD Tofu House creator Hee Sook Lee arrived in Los Angeles in 1989, she didnt come to introduce a Korean dining establishment empire. Edward Lee states when his mama told her household about the possibility of going 24/7, everybody was doubtful. It made them want to come to Korea,” Lee says.
The banchan paid by servers is so abundant, you can get complete on it before the main dish gets here.
” As she focused a lot on growth [of the business], there was a lot on the back end, the human resources, that had lagged behind the development of the business. And I think there were some mistakes,” Lee states.
” You d have the crispy, burnt rice bits at the bottom, and then they put hot water in and make nurunji, which is extremely old-school and very Korean. It made her restaurant feel unique,” Cecilia Hae Jin Lee says.
Her very first daring leap was the decision to build her company around soondubu jjigae, a bubbling stew of silken tofu in a fiery broth reddened by gochujang. BCD servers will ask what spice level you choose, from mild to rip-out-your-sinuses-hot, which some claim to blast away any incipient hangovers and nascent colds.
The outpost on Wilshire Boulevard– the third and most famous BCD Tofu House– opened in 2000 and became extremely popular, in part, due to the fact that Lee kept it open 24 hours a day. Even throughout the coronavirus pandemic, it continues to use take-out at all hours.
Edward Lee states when his mother told her family about the possibility of going 24/7, everyone was doubtful. Would many people wish to eat Korean food late at night? Wouldnt they prefer a burger or maybe a plate of eggs and hashbrowns at Dennys?
After Lee was identified with cancer 6 years ago, she continued to go to a number of the “Carlys Girls” meals. Steel didnt know about her pals medical diagnosis till 3 years into Lees battle with cancer.
” I didnt know she was in discomfort at all due to the fact that she never ever informed us that she was in discomfort,” Steel states.
” When theyre speaking about going to the U.S. and coming to L.A., they state that you need to make a stop at BCD,” writer Katherine Kim describes. “Its certainly L.A. Its extremely SoCal.”.
Today, the brilliant green and orange BCD logo design can be identified at 13 dining establishments, the majority of them in California– including Torrance, Irvine and Fullerton– along with a few in Texas, New Jersey and New York.
” The running joke was she in fact has four sons and that her dining establishment BCD is in fact our youngest sibling,” Eddie states.
She believed a lot about BCD, the family would tease her.
Lee pushed back.
Hee Sook Lee constructed an L.A.-based dining establishment empire based around soondubu. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee).
” She was constantly offering– and not simply love. She would bring little lipsticks or tofu or fermented fish,” Steel states.
In the Korean American community, Lee was known as much for her charity work when it comes to her organization savvy.
” She stated a lot of Korean people burn the midnight oil. There are a great deal of Koreans who operate in the garment industry, and they work truly odd hours, who simply need a place to consume, late in the evening or early in the morning,” Eddie states.
Hee Sook Lee (left) was a longtime advocate of the Global Children Foundation, a company established by Korean American women. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee).
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel (top row, 3rd from right) befriended Hee Sook Lee (far right, leading row) when she arranged a supper for Carly Fiorina. (Courtesy of Michelle Steel).
It was old-school ravers, using baggy JNCO denims with a white tank top with a visor. It was that look,” Cho states.
Lee likewise made an effort to support civic life, contributing to Korean American politicians of both major parties.
” Theyre truly, actually close partners but I believe they simply sort of chosen early on to not butt heads. My daddy has his dining establishments in Korea, a few dining establishments in Las Vegas. And my mommy had her thing. Thats a extremely clever and smart decision they made early on in their marriage,” Eddie states.
Years later on and residing in the U.S., Lee remained in her 30s, married to an effective restaurateur and busy raising their three sons however she wished for a profession of her own. After studying graphic style at Santa Monica College and diamond-grading, she had an idea.
If replica is the sincerest kind of flattery, Lee is a cooking leader. With BCD Tofu House, she produced a format that dining establishments around the country have actually copied. For lots of Korean Americans, the brand name stays a favorite and its soondubu is a beloved home cooking.
Today, Eddie is the only boy in the household organization. His siblings work in finance in New York.
Hee Sook Lee stands outside the Wilshire place of BCD Tofu House at its reopening, which followed renovations. (Courtesy of Eddie Lee).
” Every Sunday, we would always want to consume there,” Edward recalls. “And she resembled, Oh, thats intriguing.”.
” When we went there, it was clear that she had been a patron for a long period of time because the waitstaff understood her and the supervisor understood her. It was a place where she had a square meal once again. She stated this was simply such a treat for her,” Kim states.
Noah Cho, a food writer for Catapult, remembers visiting the Wilshire location as a college kid in the late 1990s, at the peak of the AZN pride scene.
She helped lead the non-profit Global Children Foundation, which started by providing relief to poor children living in South Korea however expanded to offer services all over the world.
Daniel Lee Gray, who has resided in Korea for around 2 years, stated Hee Sook Lee had ended up being famous in her native land because of BCDs success in the United States.
Lee needed to break it to them that BCD was in fact a Korean American brand name that had actually only opened places in Asia after discovering success in the U.S. (The locations in Tokyo and Seoul have because closed.) He learned how BCD had served as an introduction to Korean culture for a few of his clients.
A pot of soondubu (a stew of soft tofu) at BCD Tofu House in 2015. (Insatiable Munchies/Flickr Creative Commons).
Before the pandemic, restaurants take pleasure in a late night meal at BCD Tofu House in Koreatown. (Chava Sanchez/ LAIST).
Cecilia Hae Jin Lee says BCDs soondubu wasnt the most celebrated– that distinction would probably go to Beverly Soon Tofu, included by the late Anthony Bourdain on his CNN show Parts Unknown– however BCD had a reputation for consistency, quality and flourishes such as having servers scrape the bottom of a bowl of stone-pot rice.
In the morning, Lee would catch the very first Southwest flight from Vegas to LAX. As quickly as she landed, she would drive to a downtown L.A. market to pick out her veggies then show up at BCD to work in the restaurant.
” She enjoyed communicating with customers. The Korean neighborhood is truly pretty little. Typically at the dining establishment, she d see someone she understood from church or someone from the gym or somebody from another organization,” he says.
For BCD fans, the lawsuit was a remote memory, if they understood about it at all. After learning of Lees death, they commemorated her on social media, applauding her contributions to the culinary scene, to the Korean American neighborhood and to Southern California.
Steel states Lee made an effort to live life more loudly after her diagnosis– quite actually, singing karaoke rather of smiling in the corner.
Long after Fiorinas quotes for the U.S. Senate and the presidency ended, this group of Korean American women met monthly, calling themselves “Carlys Girls.”.