KOBOB BURGER. MAKING BURGERS THE RICE WAY.
Kobob means “Korean Rice” in Korean, and in Korean food rice is definitely a must. Connie and Colin, the co-owners of Kobob, wanted to put traditional Korean food and flavours into a unique form that would also entice Canadians to try. With that simple idea in mind, Kobob Burger became the first of its kind to sell Korean burgers with rice buns as their staple item. The Kobob burger, has buns made of compressed Korean rice, and filled with a traditional Korean protein filling, like bulgolgi pork/beef, or spicy pork/chicken, topped with veggies. All the food and sauces are made in house and are MSG free. With the exception of Kimchi, everything is made to order. There are vegetarian/vegan options on the menu, and they also try their best accommodate their food for vegetarian and vegan individuals. They even make gluten-free soy sauce! Together, it is incredibly flavourful, and is a great bang for the buck. The price sits around $8-$10 per a burger, which is an incredible deal by today’s standard!
So besides the great food and prices, what makes Kobob Burger a standout restaurant? Simple, the mom and pop.
Kobob burger is the “mom and pop shop” story in the modern era! In 2013, Connie Mun and Colin Park moved to Vancouver, and a month later they opened Kobob burgers. With great passion and incredible confidence they dove right into their dream of owning a restaurant and bringing traditional Korean flavours to Vancouver. In the early days, Connie felt that not many people knew what real Korean food was. Since then, working 12-13 hour days, Colin and Connie do everything in their store. They cook, they clean, and they provide the front of house service! They even make their kimchi in house every 2 weeks, which requires an entire day to make.
Connie points out that “when there is a lot of customers, it is very difficult because [she is] the only cook. But [she wants] to maintain good customer service!”. But that is also where husband Colin Park shines brightest. Colin tries his best to remember the “regulars” that come in, and their usual orders that they get so that they can provide the best service possible.
Whether it is the quality of the food, or the design of the restaurant, Connie’s intentions are always to provide the best possible experience for her customers. Connie and Colin are not trained cooks, so Connie spent a lot of time creating the recipes, designing the presentation of the food, and tampering with the flavours until she was happy with what she was serving to her customers. Connie, since opening day, cooks everything, and she maintains that it stay this way because she wants to guarantee that every meal served holds a certain standard of quality. This husband and wife duo, want every customer to have a satisfying meal from the moment you enter to the moment you leave. When I asked Connie what kind of restaurant she wanted Kobob Burger to be,
Connie replied: “I want a family environment, where everybody knows each other. Most of my customers are regulars. I want them to be like family, and I am making home cooked meals for everyone”
Like the 1982 sitcom Cheers, she desires for it to be a place “where everybody knows your name”. If this doesn’t scream mom and pop shop and bring a smile to your face, then I’m not sure what does.
Personally, I love “mom and pop” restaurants. It feels like the “Mom and Pop” restaurants have become a rarer occurrence in Vancouver and it’s quite unfortunate. “Mom and Pop” to me is a place that is, for the most part, run by the owners and their family. If you frequent one of these restaurants enough, you gradually build a relationship with the owners. The restaurant itself will feel like a second home and you’ll feel a sense of comfort simply being there. I remember growing up in Chinatown Vancouver and my mom would bring me around from store to store. With a greeting and a wave, the staff there would know exactly what my mom wanted. I’d stand there quietly as the adults chatted like old friends. Sadly, I can’t say that I have this kind of relationship with restaurants. My mom would always tell me about the owner’s story: where they came from, and how difficult it was to open and run that restaurant. It made me appreciate my food more. I was even more patient when I waited in line. And most importantly, I just had a better experience knowing the things I knew. But as the “mom and pop” shops dwindle, there are fewer stories to hear, and even of the ones that are out there, most of us live such a hustle and bustle lifestyle that it doesn’t occur to us that these stories ought to be heard.
So back to the food…because segues are my forte…
Interestingly, there is a specific method of eating these burgers. As Colin often reminds his customers, since the buns are made of rice, it should be eaten within the wrapper and slowly unravelled as you eat more. This method keeps the rice buns nicely compacted and keeps the juices held within the two rice buns. However, starting last August, Connie and Colin have also added the option of grilling the rice buns.
I had the pleasure of trying the kimchi pork Kobob Burger with the grilled rice buns. The grilled rice buns add a crunchy texture to the rice. It reminds me of that thin layer of crunchy rice found at the bottom of clay pots. In Cantonese we call it “fan jiu”, which people often fight over since there’s only so much on the bottle of the pot. So for anyone that has cravings for grilled rice, problem solved. The grilled buns also holds its’ shape quite well, so you can actual peel the wrapper all the way off if you prefer to it that way. In general, the burger is a well-rounded burger, and fulfills three things that I generally look for in a good burger. First, it tastes fantastic. The meat is incredibly flavourful, and the kimchi adds a small kick. The rice buns and vegetables balances out the flavours and add a bit of texture to the bite. Secondly, it’s aesthetically pleasing. It has bright white rice buns, vibrant kimchi pork, and an assortment of vegetables to give it that extra colour. Thirdly, it’s filling. Generally speaking, one of the biggest trade-offs of good looking food is how much you actually get served. The Kobob burger is generously filled with meat. And the rice buns also do a good job of filling you up.
Of course, if you’re not feeling burgers, they also have Bibim’bob’ (mixed rice), and Korean pancakes which may tickle your fancy. Loaded with meats and vegetables the bibim’bob’ makes a good alternative for those who prefer to eat with utensils. And the Korean pancakes, which come out steaming hot, make for a great teaser on the side. In addition, you can purchase home-made traditional Kimchi that comes in 250ml bottles. At Kobob, they keep their menu relatively small, to ensure that the quality of the meal is always sustained. But what they do have will for sure keep you hooked!
Perhaps one of the most impressive tid bits about this restaurant is that the prices at Kobob Burgers have remained the same since opening day. When we asked about this, Connie said that: “[She] never thought about the margin of profit when [she] opened [her] business. And then [they] started having a lot of regular customers, and the customers are used to that price. [We didn’t] want them to spend too much when eating lunch here.”
Like the Kobob burger itself, the store was also carefully designed. The overall aesthetic is quite simple, but warm and welcoming. With white and black walls, wooded counter tops, and a few simple trinkets, this cozy space provides an elegant almost café like area to sit and chat. In addition, its’ large windows and elegant light fixtures, also provides a nice place for foodies and lifestyle instagrammers to take a few artistic snaps. A lot of Korean restaurants in Vancouver have low natural light and a lot of yellow lights inside the restaurant which makes for really yellow pictures. As a person who likes to take photos, this is actually a breath of fresh air!
I generally associate Korean restaurants with being quite crowded and loud, but Kobob actually feels quite serene. I think it makes for a perfect little spot to take a date (you can even drop a little Kobob knowledge to impress your date). Of course, the most prominent display within their restaurant is their large wall of photos of all their regular customers.
We asked Connie what her inspiration for that photo wall was, and she replied: “When customer’s enjoy my food, it makes me feel good. And I want to keep that special moment with the customers. So that when I see that picture I am reminded of those good moments.”
Not only is this wall aesthetically pleasing, it also provides a sense of warmth and familiarity for new and returning customers. And more importantly it’s a symbol of the owner’s appreciation of their regular patrons. This wall accurately represents how beautiful that “mom and pop” restaurant relationship with its customers can be. However, what most don’t know about this place is that all the furniture and fixtures were custom made. Connie and Colin didn’t really have a plan for the overall layout, but they slowly pieced the place together until it felt “right”. Connie and Colin set out to make food that simply makes people happy, and the environment at Kobob burger’s was built with that same philosophy.
Overall the food was great, the environment was enjoyable and most importantly their story is moving. While most restaurants these days take a “one meal fits all” approach, this little spot still believes in making each individual meal special for each customer at an affordable price. This is a truly miraculous feat, especially for a two person team to accomplish. “Mom and Pop” restaurants are a beautiful thing. They’re a dream come true for the shop owners, and an incredible contribution to the community. Each one has a little to offer, and a small story to tell. I highly encourage everyone to hit up these “mom and pop” restaurants, and find their “go to place”, because there are so many of them out there that need to be appreciated just like Kobob Burgers. Leave no stories unheard!
Written: Dominic Wong
Photography: Rich Won