Kroger 817 and 399 : Joonlae Lee

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JFE: How did you first hear about JFE and start working with us?

Chef Lee: Three years ago JFE posted advertisements in Korean restaurants and the Korean market. So I talked to JFE’s branch manager and national operations manager. At that time I was thinking, “This is a very, very good business model”, and so I joined with you.

JFE: What attracted you to this business model?

Chef Lee: The first thing I liked was the low investment. Before I started this sushi bar, I had three restaurants in another city that I had invested over a million dollars in. With the lower entry costs and maintenance costs of my sushi bar now, my profit is a lot better than with a regular restaurant.

JFE: How do you feel about your business right now?

Chef Lee: I’m happy. Business this year is even better than last year. I used to work in the Marketing division of a big company in Korea, so I learned what customers want. After I came to the U.S., my restaurants were also an important experience to help with my sushi bar. Both have been very helpful to me.

JFE: What was one challenge you had to overcome opening your first JFE sushi bar?

Chef Lee: I had no experience in making sushi. It was hard to learn at first. Of course it can be expensive to hire additional help, but I knew I wanted to open an additional location, so I had to become a very skilled chef.

JFE: Can you tell us about your customers?

Chef Lee: The nicer my customers are, the nicer I have to be. Mine can be very selective, so the more they love sushi the more I have to try to help them with anything special they need. Most of my customers come back to buy again. I think my employees are part of the reason for this. If the customers want something, we’re going to help them. Kindness is very important!

JFE: What advice would you give to a new chef in a store of your size?

Chef Lee: Making samples is the most important thing. Some chefs don’t like to sample because of the cost, but I think if you make more samples you make more money. That is the most important thing.

Also, we have a lot of PB (Private Brand) items. I always order new ones as soon as they’re available. They really help sales. I also used the Wasabi Roll sales contest as an opportunity to merchandise and market the PB wasabi peas.

JFE: What do you think about the branding changes in the last year?

Chef Lee: The brand is great, but everybody should remember a brand can’t take the place of a great chef. Your relationship with the customer is the most important thing!