Celebrity Owned Restaurants: Exploiting the Korean wave, or an innocent business venture?

I recently came across an article about the increasing numbers of celebrity owned restaurants in Korea (predominantly Seoul).

We all know the phenomena that is the “Hallyu” or “Korean Wave” has recently taken the world by storm, from Korean artists starting to be featured on international iTunes (Big Bang’s TOP being the first with his single Turn it Up) to the more recent viral video that people can’t stop “horse dancing” to (yes, you know the song I’m talking about, and no, I’m not going to mention it).

Naturally all aspects of Korean culture are getting more exposure than ever before with many initiatives launched by its various culture centres around the globe; take the London Korean Film Festival that has just come to an end as an example. In the same vein, Korean cuisine is a new exciting and relatively undiscovered realm.

For K-pop fans (not just the music, but also popular culture such as movies and variety programs) travelling to Korea is fast becoming a box that needs to be checked off their “things to do as soon as humanly possible” list. The Korean government is well aware of this pressing desire and has launched a number of initiatives to promote Korea and a top travel destination. Many artists have also noticed their rise in universal popularity and are not letting the attention go to waste.

As a result, there have been hundreds of ways thought up to cash in on this “K” obsession, whether international fans or domestic. When I see news of celebrity owned restaurants, unfortunately this is what comes to mind. Of course I could be wrong, but with the international sale of k-pop merchandise at an all-time high; new online markets popping up all the time with anything from various k-pop fandom light sticks to replica clothes that Hallyu stars have been seen wearing.

It is now possible to have life size posters of your favourite idol on your wall, listen to their music  (downloaded from iTunes or from a CD bought online or at HMV) wear clothes and jewellery they have been spotted wearing, see them live in concert (which have also recently been expanding further than Asia) visit Korea and see where they work and live (many fans have access to the addresses of k-pop stars’ dorms) and now eat the food that they like (or have chosen for that menu, or may have been involved in creating the recipe of)? Isn’t this all going a bit far?  All this can be achieved, along with a hefty price tag attached. One has to ask…isn’t this all going a bit too far? Are these stars really involved in their many “businesses” or are they just being used to attract more dollars (or pounds, euro, won, or yen)?

The music industry in itself isn’t actually very profitable which is due to a combination of issues such the fact most download sites charge very little to download songs, the issue of illegal downloading sites and the problem of unfair contracts (the latter of which has plagued the K-pop industry in recent years).

Most restaurants that are celebrity owned are genuine, however it is also true that a number of the restaurants started out as being part owned by the celebrity’s company (such as in the case of Se7en’s Yeolbong).  At Gorilla in the Kitchen, Bae Yong-joon’s celebrity paraphernalia is nowhere to be found in the restaurant and the restaurant’s philosophy is to attract a clientele based on the quality of their food rather than his Hallyu status.

To conclude, being an entrepreneur and having something to fall back on is fine. No one will disagree that having a plan B is definitely a smart move in a market that relies heavily on aesthetics, after all, people age and fans move on. Look at hip-hop moguls Jay-Z and P.Diddy who both have their own upscale New York restaurants.

What always needs to be taken into account is how genuine these restaurants are in terms of food and service. Not just celebrity promotion. Supporting your idol’s music by buying original CD’s is one thing, but supporting a greedy company executive using their name to satisfy their own agenda’s is another!

What do you think of the trend? Am I over-reacting, or is there some underlying reason attracting stars to the business of fine dining?

For anyone interested in how these places really work, the official site of Korean Tourism has some answers to a set of FAQ’s:

“Q: Can we meet stars at their restaurants?

A: The stars are rarely at their restaurants as most are busy broadcasting or are at other events. In most cases, their family, relatives, or acquaintances manage the restaurant. In other cases, the stars are the investors and hire professional managers to run their business….also, in these restaurants you will not find any props related to the stars. On the other hand, stars do show up at the restaurants sometimes.

Q: So where do the stars usually go out to eat?

A: They go to restaurants near broadcasting stations for a quick meal between takes or for a dinner party with their staff afterwards. That way, they don’t have to travel far and it is convenient to go as a group. Young stars go to clubs, bars and restaurants in Apgujeong-dong or Cheongdam-dong. If you are lucky, you can see them and get an autograph from them.”

Sources: KTOCNN Travel, ZenKimchi

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A proud East Asian culture enthusiast. Writer for BeyondHallyu and UnitedJpop. London based.
  • http://twitter.com/JayArt95 Jayart95 bishes

    I think that even though its exploiting the kpop industry, I don’t really mind. I mean honestly, I think the whole world exploits each other, and they must have realized that. although, I would rather go to a Korean restaurant well known for it’s quality, than ” Idol X owns it” especially when theres a -0.00000000000000000000000001 % chance that they might pop in and we might see them. Is eating crap food worth that chance? For me no. But if people are willing to pay then GO AHEAD EXPLOIT ALL YOU LIKE. SEE IF I CARE.

  • http://www.facebook.com/junseong.lee Junseong Lee

    Time for criticism
    ; Too Long
    ; I don’t like the name of writer.
    ; I hate reading so it should have more pics just for me
    ; Kinda got a feeling that the writer has never even been to Kor..?