In honor of Women’s History Month, The Michigan Daily’s business beat spent the month speaking with women business owners throughout Ann Arbor about their journey, their connection to the community and their legacy. Read the other stories here.
Nestled in the heart of Kerrytown, Miss Kim, an award-winning restaurant operated by Ji Hye Kim, serves traditional Korean cuisine with a contemporary twist. Kim opened the restaurant in 2016 as a part of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses through their Path to Partnership program, which allows anyone, regardless of previous business experience, to apply to either join an existing Zingerman’s business as a partner or, in Kim’s case, start their own.
Miss Kim is a unique Korean restaurant in more ways than one. For instance, the sliding pay scale business model means that customers can choose what to pay for 17 of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, with price options ranging from free to 1.5 times the regular price of the dishes. The restaurant was also recently involved in Ann Arbor’s 2023 Restaurant Week, and offers a variety of popular Korean dishes from kimchi to tteokbokki
In her time as a business owner, Kim said she has had to learn how to command respect in an industry where women and people of Color are underrepresented.
“There were times where the cooks would be hired and (it) would be extra challenging because they’re straight male — sometimes straight, white male — cooks and they’re used to working in male-dominated kitchens,” Kim said. “They don’t want to listen to female chefs. But at the end of the day, it is my kitchen and my business and if they cannot respect women or a woman boss. So that’s another positive thing about owning a business of your own — you can create an environment that you yourself want to be in.”
Across the country about 60% of restaurants close within a year after they first open, making it clear that starting a new restaurant is no easy task. Kim said Zingerman’s Path to Partnership program helped provide her with the resources she needed as a new business owner. Kim started working for Zingerman’s in 2007, after she decided to leave her previous office job and make the leap into the food industry. So when she wanted to open a restaurant of her own, she said Zingerman’s helped her navigate all of the challenges that came with that decision.
“Being a small business owner is also challenging because sometimes the resources are not available to you, it’s not really easy or cheap to have your own HR department or legal advice or accounting help,” Kim said. “I am lucky because I can get (that sort of) help through Zingerman’s network. If I were not part of Zingerman’s network, those things would be very challenging.”
But even with the support of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Kim has still faced challenges. The loneliness and isolation that accompany being a small business owner can take a toll on entrepreneurs, she said, so creating a community of women chefs was key to her personal success.
“You can often feel like you’re isolated because you’re running your own business, but you can remedy that by being a part of a community,” Kim said. “For me, it’s being a part of Zingerman’s and connecting with other chefs, especially women of Color chefs, in this area of Southeast Michigan, but also all over the country and sharing our common challenges together. That always helps.”
When asked if she had any advice for fellow women entrepreneurs, Kim told The Daily what she tells all of the female staff at Miss Kim: to challenge every expectation people may have for women in the kitchen.
“You cannot behave like patriarchy expects you to,” Kim said. “Don’t take no for an answer. Work with the team. Be strong and speak up and don’t be afraid of leaving (an) environment if that’s not the right environment for you. I think the short way to describe it is, you don’t have to follow what society has set up as an expectation for women.”
Daily Staff Reporter Mary Corey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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