An international alumnus graduated from Binghamton University and went back to his home country of South Korea six years ago, armed with a simple but brilliant business idea. Within the following year, he started an eatery brand in Seoul called Jilhal Bros, inspired by New York-style halal chicken and rice street carts.
Woosik John Kim, ‘14, launched his first restaurant the year after his graduation with menu items like chicken over rice and lamb wrap sandwiches, signature dishes that are familiar to anyone who has been to New York City. Soon after, Jilhal Bros went viral in Seoul, which paved the way for the brand to turn it into a franchise.
According to Kim, Jilhal Bros is now one of the most prominent brands of its kind in South Korea. As of 2020, Kim has successfully launched six branches of his restaurant. Once a BU student who studied English literature, the business idea stems back to his undergraduate years.
“While I was attending [BU], I had a chance to visit [New York City] every break,” he wrote. “The biggest reason for my visit was to eat from the Halal cart located in front of [the Museum of Modern Art].”
What was once a hunger for one of New York’s finest offerings turned into a business idea when he returned to South Korea. After conducting market research and creating a business plan, Kim started operating the following year, realizing his restaurant was the first of its kind in the country.
“I realized no one had ever opened a halal cart here in South Korea,” Kim wrote. “So, I decided to open the very first New York-style street food here in South Korea.”
Kim confessed that his inspiration also came from his personal passion for this cuisine.
“Not only I wanted to start a business, but I also craved chicken over rice ever since I left New York,” he wrote.
Jilhal Bros made a name for itself after it became popular among K-pop artists, local YouTubers and food bloggers. After seeing vlogs and reviews from these public figures, their fans and followers would notice the brand, making it more widespread. Kim believes this marketing strategy is what led to his success.
“I opened my very first restaurant in Cheongdam, which is known as the Hollywood of Seoul, where all the major entertainment companies are located,” Kim wrote. “My marketing strategy was to target the K-pop stars for the exposures, which fortunately worked and attracted a lot of customers.”
Some of his customers include artists such as BTS, Twice, Got7, SNSD, iKon and 2 PM. Several YouTube videos featuring Jilhal Bros’ dishes have more than 100,000 views.
Kim’s success, however, did not only come from his business skills, as he also worked very hard developing his own recipe from scratch.
“My dream wasn’t to be a chef,” he wrote. “However, I wanted to develop my own chicken over rice, so I watched every single YouTube
and Googled every page possible to search for ‘chicken over rice recipes.’ I traveled to New York numerous times to compare my recipe with the major halal carts in New York City.”
With five years of business under his belt, Kim aspires to expand his brand even further.
“Jilhal Bros currently has six locations, and we are planning to open three more in Seoul this year,” he wrote. “We are also planning on slowly expanding throughout the country and overseas in the later future.”