In the beginning, it was simply an idea: A South Korean-born professor of religion wanted to bring quality Korean food to an American audience.
John Choi and his daughter, Jen, this week open a Philadelphia branch of Crunchik’n, a version of the Korean snack shops they founded in Ocean City, N.J., in 2017, in a former diner at 212 S. 11th St. in Washington Square West. The menu includes twice-fried Korean fried chicken as well as oven-baked Korean chicken, rice bowls, dumplings, fresh fruit drinks, and an arancini-like rice ball called a Crunch Ball.
John Choi, who immigrated to the United States three decades ago, shuttled between a university in South Korea and seminaries in New Jersey. All the while, he took food seriously. He said he saw a lot of good food served within Korean communities in the United States, but did not see much outside.
After taking a chef’s training course, he retired and decided to go the restaurant route.
But he needed help. His daughter Jen, meanwhile, had finished a graduate degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University and was doing research.
“I did the whole immigrant child path, where you go to college and you go back to grad school and you pursue an academic career,” said Jen Choi, 30, who grew up in Edison, N.J. “That’s not the answer for everybody.”
She said she was ready to start a new job, “and I realized I’d rather work with my family than with a big corporation.”
The Chois found a space in Ocean City, N.J. Before opening in 2017, they experimented. John Choi enlisted help from food scientists in Korea to help them nail down their recipes and techniques. They continue to travel back to Korea to develop upgrades.