Photo taken inside Taste of Seoul, a Korean restaurant in Kitchener, of owner Jin Hwa Chye.


Taste of Seoul opened its second location in downtown Kitchener on Mar. 5, 2024. The new store, Taste of Seoul Express, is located on the ground floor of the DTK Condo building at 60 Frederick St. The store offers Taste of Seoul’s bibimbap, poke, sushi , and udon menu with halal, gluten-free, or vegetarian options.  

Operating two restaurants (in addition to catering and pop-ups at local markets) was not a career that owner Jin Hwa Chye had in mind when she moved to Canada from South Korea in 2011 with her young family. 

Before moving to Canada, Chye was an art teacher in South Korea, where she met her Canadian-born husband, who was running an English school in the city of Incheon.  

When the couple decided to move to Kitchener, they had two young sons, and Chye needed to wait to receive her permanent resident status before looking for work. She was spending her time cooking and crafting her unique takes on traditional Korean dishes.   

“I had started cooking a lot with my neighbours, and I just love cooking and feeding people. One of my friends recommended starting a pop-up at Vincenzo’s in Waterloo. The pop-up ran from 11 to 2, which was perfect for me at the time with two young kids and only one car,” she said.  

Chye would drop her husband off at his work and then bring her ingredients to Vincenzo’s once a week. It was a hectic schedule on pop-up days, but she said it was also a great way to introduce Korean dishes to new customers.  

“It was a great place to advertise. People would come in from local offices and then recommend me to coworkers and friends. That generated interest in catering, so I started to look for a kitchen space,” Chye said.  

She found space at 154 Victoria St. S., where Taste of Seoul opened to dine-in and take-out customers in 2018. At first, the location was only open two days a week for customers, with the other days focused on preparing dishes for local markets and catering clients. When the pandemic forced local markets and offices to close, Chye quickly pivoted the business to support delivery, which she said kept the restaurant going.  

At the same time, her landlord informed her that the property was eventually going to be redeveloped. Chye began looking for a new location and chose the space at the then-under-construction DTK Condo building. What she did not intend at the time was to have two active locations at once due to construction delays and changes in the market.  

“Our landlord asked us to stay in our current location longer than we had expected. But we had to move anyway, so we opened the new location too. Right now, we need this kitchen too, because the new location is smaller,” she said.  

Like other restaurants in the city’s core, Chye said Taste of Seoul is struggling with the slow return of workers to downtown offices.  According to a January 2024 report by CBRE Limited, the downtown office occupancy rate is 23.3 percent, its highest level in years.   

“On lunch hours, there used to be long lineups. But we’ve had a tough time the last months. We launched a VIP program, where customers can collect stamps for each meal and get a free one,” Chye said.  

Rising supply costs are also a challenge. Taste of Seoul has done as much as possible to keep prices in line with inflation, but Chye said it can be challenging.  

“ Click here to enter text. But this community is awesome, and everyone is trying to help each other. We were just a part of the DTK Travellers Tour, and more events are coming up this year. I’m pretty confident that things will pick up—especially once you taste our food,” she  said.