On three separate occasions since 2015, celebrity restaurateur Guy Fieri has gotten a taste of Dae Gee Korean BBQ on his food reality television series Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Soon, foodies on Oahu will get the same opportunity, as the popular Denver-based franchise with Hawaiian roots recently announced its expansion plans for the island.
According to founder and CEO Joe Kim, whose mother-in-law and co-founder previously owned a Korean restaurant in Honolulu in the 1990s, company plans call for opening five restaurants over the next few years. While leases have yet to be signed, the expansion will initially target Honolulu, Kapolei and Kailua.
Each restaurant will occupy approximately 1,500 square feet of real estate and employ as many as 10 people.
“Franchising has always been our long-term goal,” says Kim. “The community support and encouragement that we’ve received over the years in Colorado has prepared us for just this. We’re obsessed with offering the most dynamic food around and eager to introduce our exceptional dining experience to Oahuans all across the island.”
For much of his 20s, Kim worked in the family dry cleaning business until his mother-in-law approached him with the idea of opening a Korean barbeque restaurant in the Denver area. They opened the very first Dae Gee restaurant in the Denver suburb of Westminster in 2012 and have since been captivating a wide audience with Kim’s own brand of youthful energy and his mother-in-law’s homemade recipes.
Today, Dae Gee has grown to five corporate locations across Colorado’s Front Range and has firmly anchored itself as a Korean barbeque spot progressively blending Korean food tradition with American culture.
“Dae Gee which means pig in Korean is about pigging out or pigout,” says Kim. “Doing everything to the maximum whether it’s a crazy red mohawk [like the one Kim sports] or having a trendy look to pushing the limits of how things are done.”
The restaurants serve modern versions of his mother-in-law’s homemade recipes, such as traditional Korean meats that customers can cook themselves on tabletop grills. The traditional Korean meats like Galbee (Beef Shot Ribs), Sam Gyeob Sal (Sliced Pork Belly) and Dak Bulgogi (Chicken) are marinated in Dae Gee’s secret marinade and can be enjoyed on its own or tucked inside lettuce and eaten as a wrap. Fish and vegetarian options are also available. Entrees can be piled high with whatever you want to mix in: rice, fresh slaw, spicy sauce and a variety of nine side dishes, such as kimchee, broccoli, radish and fish cakes.
“Dae Gee lights up your senses and enriches the full human experience,” adds Kim. “From generations of recipes passed down, we leave our customers well fed with culture, humor, and top quality home recipe style Korean food.”
Including a franchise fee of $45,000, the total investment to open a 1,500-2,000 square-foot Dae Gee restaurant ranges from $679,375 to $954,125.
As of now, Kim says there is no preference between single-unit or multi-unit operators. The ideal candidate should not only have strong financial backing, but also a perseverant mindset, especially given what the restaurant industry has gone through in the past couple of years.