Found in the middle of Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood is a restaurant that has some of Hollywood’s biggest stars coming to dine and enjoy. Caffé Concerto is a family-owned restaurant that brings together an eclectic range of tastes, visions, and personalities, including one of its owners Lion Kim, a former singer and club owner from Seoul, South Korea who helped bring his restaurant vision to Los Angeles with partner Erin Jeon back in 2010.
Anybody who visits the restaurant will see just how incredible Lion is. If it isn’t his attire or outgoing personality that catches your ears/eyes, maybe its seeing him skateboard around the outside of the restaurant when you arrive. You just feel at home when visiting this restaurant, and its no wonder stars like world famous singer PSY, director Oliver Stone and actor Charles Rahi Chun come to dine.
Daily Candid News sat down with Lion to find out more on why his establishment has turned into a Hollywood hotspot…
Q) How is living and running a restaurant in Los Angeles different than where you grew up in Seoul, South Korea?
A) Los Angeles is much more relaxed than Seoul, but that’s not to say it’s slow or dull. Koreatown in particular is very exciting, so I feel like I can have the best of both worlds here in LA . The pace of life here and the culture make Los Angeles enjoyable for me. I like to ride my skateboard to work and hang out with our loyal customers on the outdoor deck. It gives me so much joy to be able to have this place to come to everyday.
Q) How did you decide on where in Los Angeles you wanted to open up Caffé Concerto?
A) My wife saw the building and was completely enamored by it. She liked that it was shaped like a house and that it had a third floor attic. Initially, she wanted to convert the upstairs attic into a meditation room, but over time it evolved to become a cafe. We didn’t originally start off with the idea of opening a cafe, but it all just fell into place naturally.
Q) Were you nervous to open a restaurant, as it is much different than your other careers as a singer and club owner?
A) Well, even while I was singing, I was always involved in business, but of course I was nervous! People were very skeptical when I told them I was opening an Italian restaurant in Koreatown. It would be one thing if Caffé Concerto was just a restaurant, but of course it also includes a full coffee counter, bakery, and bar. The whole concept was very grand from the start, but it all felt necessary. Sure, I was nervous about it all coming together, but what motivated me was this persistent feeling that I wanted to bring some of the cafe culture from Korea to Los Angeles. The restaurant is a fusion not just of flavors, but of culture. It brings together many different ways to dine, and LA is the perfect place to receive this diversity. Even our menu is not altogether Italian, though sometimes we end up calling it that. A lot of the menu is inspired by my wife’s franchise Yen Sushi and Sake Bar. For this reason, it’s not uncommon to see Japanese inspired items on the menu, and even latin flavors inspired from our family travels.
Q) Which celebrities have been the biggest fans of your restaurant since its opening?
A) Well, a lot of people stop by who are friends of mine — I wanted to make this restaurant a place where people who enjoy culture, music, and art can feel comfortable and part of a community.
Q) What menu item is your favorite to enjoy? What drink too?
A) My favorite is the lobster spaghetti. I also really enjoy our Dutch drip coffee, and drink a cup a day while working.
Q) Caffé Concerto is a family run restaurant… does it ever get difficult working with family daily?
A) Certainly, but there is no greater reward! Nobody else get’s what I mean quite like my family does. This is why we are able to do what we do — because there is a tacit understanding between all of us.
7. What do you feel mostly inspired the taste and vision for Caffé Concerto?
I worked and travelled throughout Italy when I was working in fashion and merchandising, so a lot of the themes you notice are inspired by my travels — specifically the vibe of Florence and Tuscany. I also tried to tie in Renaissance architectural themes into the design of our new space in Santa Anita.
Q) And final questions: What is the most embarrassing thing to happen to you while at Caffé Concerto? And do people ever confuse you with the Lion King (since you are in charge too)?!
A) Hmm.. I think I am most embarrassed when I feel like I recognize someone and ask them if they’ve been here before, and they reply curtly, “no.” The confusion hasn’t happened yet but I welcome it because Simba is awesome. My wife for a while had a meme of Nala and Simba with the caption “Lion and Erin,” 🙂