AUSTIN, Texas - Chi’Lantro, the fast casual Korean barbecue restaurant, famous for its kimchi fries, started as a tiny food truck here in Austin 12 years ago, and now Jae Kim, the CEO and founder is sharing his immigrant journey in hopes of inspiring others.
A day with the CEO starts in his office headquarters in East Austin, starting his day with team updates and a little behind the scenes with the catering team.
"They’re presenting most of the ideas and they’re presenting solutions and I’m there to kinda help them guide them through," Kim says as he walks feet over to the marketing department. They’re looking ahead to June to celebrate Pride month for their community.
Kim is candid about showing the behind-the-scenes of his business, he wants to show others everyone struggles and puts in work.
"Going through a pandemic, I know there was a situation where I called my wife and I said, ‘You know, I think we’re going to go bankrupt,’" Kim remembers. It’s another part of his journey he's now sharing on social media.
His Instagram is filled with quick minute-long videos with success tips for fellow entrepreneurs. His goal is to share a video every day for 365 days.
"Coming out of [the pandemic], I just felt like restaurateurs and entrepreneurs that are out there are struggling and they’re tired they’re exhausted, and I just wanted to bring some value to their life," Kim says setting up his mini office studio ready to shoot another video for his social media.
"If you’re an immigrant, grew up with a single mom who had to support two kids, you’re not getting good grades in school, if you have a sibling that was disabled, if you lost your dad to cancer, that’s me," Kim says in one of his social media videos.
Kim’s story is a tough story, but you wouldn’t know the struggle by spending a day with him.
"I was angry because I was a victim of my situation. I grew up in a single mom [household], I had visa issues," Kim remembers. "Not a lot of people know [the struggle] who are born here. Like, going through the immigration process of getting a green card and like you're thinking like, ‘Do I belong here?’ and like it just starts off with that, there's a language barrier."
Kim says he decided to channel the anger towards something positive. He decided one day his energy of frustrations and victimization would go towards his dreams.
Now, his 9th location in South Austin on Brodie Lane opens in late May.
"Being an Asian American, being an immigrant who came to the United States when I was 12 years old with my mom and a sister, and unfortunately my sister passed away, so I don’t get to kind of show her this, but when my mom comes to visit Austin, I get to bring her here and just kind of show her how this is the journey," Kim says.
The outside world may see the journey of a young Korean family who simply wanted the American dream, but for Kim, it's his sister’s memory that keeps him going.
"NF2 is a neurofibromatosis type two. People out on the street with NF2, like they’re just gonna look different," Kim shares fighting back tears. "I have a personal vision that I’m keeping to myself, because one day I want to be able to accomplish this for her."
We’ll know about his vision when that day comes, but for now, Jae Kim keeps going and growing, remembering it all started with a young Korean mother, a little boy and his sister who’s gone physically but not in spirit.
"Even right now like, she’s teaching me about how I should be thankful, I should be grateful and that, ‘Hey, don’t forget about the mission that you have or the vision that you have, just know why you’re doing it, why you’re doing, what you’re doing’" Kim says.
Kim and Chi’lantro were featured on Shark Tank, but ultimately decided a slow expansion would be best.
The company now brings in $10 million dollars yearly and they have plans to open new locations in Austin and in Houston.