N. Kore­ans flip­ping over first taste of ham­burg­ers

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Thomas Maresca

SIN­GA­PORE – One bar­gain­ing chip Kim Jong Un may bring to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble for his sum­mit meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Tues­day is an of­fer to open a West­ern ham­burger fran­chise in Py­ongyang.

But that fran­chise wouldn’t be the iso­lated na­tion’s first fast-food joint.

The man who in­tro­duced the ham­burger to North Korea is ac­tu­ally right here in Sin­ga­pore: 63year-old Pa­trick Soh, who opened his first restau­rant in Py­ongyang in 2009.

Soh op­er­ates a lo­cal fran­chise of tiny Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­gini­abased restau­rant Waf­fle­town USA. In 2008, he was con­nected by a pair of Sin­ga­porean busi­ness­men to a North Korean state-owned com­pany look­ing to start a fran­chise. Soh said he im­me­di­ately jumped at the of­fer.

“I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’ ” he said. “In busi­ness, if you don’t try, you don’t know. I thought it would be a good chal­lenge for me.”

Soh quickly dis­cov­ered just how much of a chal­lenge the project would be, start­ing at the most fun­da­men­tal level: The over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of

North Kore­ans had ab­so­lutely no idea what a ham­burger was.

In fact, they didn’t even have a word for the all-Amer­i­can food be­cause the English lan­guage is banned in North Korea. They set­tled on a lit­eral de­scrip­tion, call­ing it minced beef and bread. The name of the restau­rant also had to be changed and be­came Sam­taesong (“three big stars”).

De­spite the hur­dles, Soh said he was im­pressed at how quickly his staff picked up the for­eign con­cepts.

“Their work­ing at­ti­tude was very good,” he said. “They were ea­ger to learn. Within a few weeks, they un­der­stood ev­ery­thing they needed to start the busi­ness.”

The food turned out to be an im­me­di­ate hit in a na­tion where ex­po­sure to the out­side world has been se­verely lim­ited. In ad­di­tion to burg­ers, Sam­taesong sells waf­fles and fried chicken, side dishes such as French fries and even cola im­ported from a Sin­ga­porean distrib­u­tor.

“(Cus­tomers) found it very interesting, dif­fer­ent,” Soh said. “They had never seen burg­ers and French fries be­fore, never had cola. Even paper cups with plas­tic lids were new. It was a to­tally dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for them.”

The fran­chise tweaked its menu slightly, mak­ing the dishes less salty to suit lo­cal tastes. The one con­ces­sion to the lo­cal cuisine was re­plac­ing coleslaw on the menu with kim­chi.

Pa­trick Soh

Staff at Sam­taesong, the first fast-food fran­chise in North Korea. SAM­TAESONG

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.