An Exclusive First Look Inside L.A.’s Yangban Society
Katianna and John Hong of Yangban Society applied training in fine dining to this old-school deli meets Asian mini-mart meets all-around hang zone.
Like many restaurant ideas, the concept for Yangban Society began as a late-night conversation between two chefs dreaming of what to do next. Katianna and John Hong had been working at fine-dining restaurants for years, most recently at the Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, and longed to create something more casual and fun. They wanted a menu inspired by Korean culture, but not labeled by the catch-all term “Korean American fusion.” Most of all, Katianna says, “We wanted it to be authentic to us.”
“Us” is two Korean Americans with distinctly different backgrounds: John came to California after growing up in a Korean-speaking home in the Chicago suburbs. Katianna was born in Korea and adopted at the age of 3 and raised by a Jewish mom and Irish-Catholic dad in upstate New York. Early on in their relationship, Katianna and John took a trip to Korea where John developed a newfound love for the traditions he grew up eating, while the trip inspired Kat to explore “Korean culture and identity and where I fit in by learning about Korean food.”
Opening a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles is like opening a bistro in Paris. To stand out, chefs typically either do it in the most classic fashion or try something completely different. The Hongs decided to do both. At Yangban Society, which is opening in downtown L.A. later this year, they’ve applied their training in fine dining to this old-school deli meets Asian mini-mart meets all-around hang zone. Here impeccable ingredients and exacting technique star in grab-and-go-friendly meat and rice dishes, noodles, salads, smoked fish, and dips topped with trout roe and furikake.
“We designed it to be a place where we’d want to hang out,” says Katianna. “You’ll be able to take a number, banter with the staff at the counter, and grab a bottle of Hite beer or mini bottles of Johnny Walker Blue from the cold case.”
“In Korea,” Katianna adds, “yangban were the aristocrats who maintained the standards of society, most often older male politicians.” She and John liked the idea of all Asian-Americans acting as yangban, but in a new way. They want to eventually feature local art and music to make the restaurant an immersive cultural experience. “We want to inspire our clientele to do great things for their community,” says Katianna. “We’re all yangban.”