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Miss Kim restaurant to celebrate three years in Ann Arbor Sunday

Chef Ji Hye Kim talks hurdles, future menu items of Miss Kim restaurant

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – On Sunday, Ann Arbor’s Miss Kim restaurant will celebrate turning three years old with a special birthday menu and festivities.

Starting at 11 a.m. the Korean restaurant will offer a menu full of favorites including birthday seaweed soup, japchae, braised meat, birthday cake and sweet, dessert rice cakes.

For its birthday month, the restaurant also has a month-long special: Those who bring in a birthday card anytime within November will receive 20% off of their bill.

But along with celebrating three years at its Kerrytown location, there has also been some time for reflection on the growing pains of the restaurant.

Miss Kim owner and chef Ji Hye Kim said that one of the biggest hurdles faced by the eatery has been implementing and educating on its One Fair Wage policy -- a policy that ensures all of her staff have a living wage and are not reliant on tips.

“So, because we did things differently, I feel like we dealt with problems ‘we don’t know’ [instead of well-known industry problems] -- and some of them were good problems. I consider this a good problem ‘cause I feel strongly that we’re doing the right thing,” said Chef Kim.

She said that it was a challenging concept to explain when hiring staff three years ago because the idea was so different from other restaurants.

“We had to put in a lot of resources and effort into letting the guests know that there really is no pressure. Because there is pressure to tip when you go out to eat, because it’s the thing to do. But what’s behind it, is it’s the ‘thing to do’ because servers don’t make any money if they don’t get tips. Whereas, in our restaurant, they’re already guaranteed a living wage and tips are just gravy.”

“And it’s really helpful gravy,” Chef Kim said, “but they’re not going to go home completely broke if they don’t get tipped.”

With the One Fair Wage, tips are truly a show of gratitude on behalf of the customer, not a necessity.

But Chef Kim said the policy has helped everyone work as a team as tips are spread amongst staff. Kitchen staff and front of house staff work more closely and directly see their efforts reflected in customer experiences and in their own paychecks.

“It was really hilarious because when we made the change -- and we got the first round of checks -- everybody was very happy and we started seeing ‘back of the house’ offering to help more [in customer forward roles].”

Chef Kim said this unity helped the restaurant become a place for a great dining experience regardless of dietary restrictions and preferences. She said that there is a higher awareness of how everything that leaves the kitchen contributes to customer experiences and that meals, regardless of restrictions, are fully realized instead of being ‘after-thoughts’.

As Miss Kim has matured, so too has the food the chef has added to the menu. Over time, she has been able to better incorporate her own research on Korean regional and historic cooking, as well as locally sourced and seasonal foods.

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According to Chef Kim, the first year was about getting down the basics, “but now we can do interesting food on the menu and explore Korean cuisine more deeply so that our menu is looking more interesting.”

She referenced bibimbop and how that menu item has evolved from something typical to something more regional-based or something adhering to Buddhist traditions.

But that’s not the only thing that Chef Kim plans to change. She has big plans for incorporating more historical Korean dishes such as a risotto-like porridge or her take on Jajangmyeon - a black bean sauce and noodle dish.

“We explored a lot of expat cooking. So, we looked at what Koreans are making in Central Asia or what Koreans are making just outside of North Korea on the Chinese border. I just think that the way food evolves is really fascinating and we are kind of living that too.”

She explained that because the restaurants’ identity involves using Michigan ingredients, the food that is conceptualized and served will naturally evolve.

Menu changes aren’t the only thing to anticipate. The owner and chef said the restaurant has also been experimenting and playing around with infused and flavored soju to add to cocktails or taste as part of a soju flight.

For more information about the birthday celebration or to see the lunch and dinner menus, visit the Miss Kim website.

Miss Kim is located in the Kerrytown Market and Shops at 407 N. 5th Ave.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.