As most Shack fans know, we recently launched our new Korean-Inspired menu complete with a Korean-Style Fried Chick’n Sandwich and Gochujang Bites + Fries. What you may not know, is that we partnered with a family-owned kimchi business, Choi’s Kimchi, to provide the crisp and tangy kimchi used in the white kimchi slaw that completes our sandwich.
While on the lookout for new partners for menu items, our team pulls out all the stops to find the highest-quality ingredients—which is how we got word of Choi’s! Based in Portland, Oregon, Choi’s is a staple in the local community with deep ties to their Korean roots and a variety of the best kimchi blends you can find, all made using techniques passed down from generation to generation.
From the moment our team first spoke with Choi’s, we knew their kimchi and their company were something special. Recently Choi’s founder and owner, Chong Suk Choi, told us all about her experience and how she created this truly one-of-a-kind company. Check out her story below.
Humble Beginnings in Portland
I started Choi’s with my son, Matt, in 2011, but I have been making kimchi for a very long time. I was born in South Korea and came to the United States in 1979 to attend college in Portland, Oregon. My husband and I operated a dry-cleaning business for many years before we opened Choi’s Kimchi. We started selling kimchi at the Portland Farmers Market after my son graduated from the University of Oregon and grew this business together to become what it is today.
Before we started our business, I would go to the grocery store and notice that the kimchi on the shelves didn’t look like the kimchi I knew. In general, there wasn’t a lot of kimchi available. Often on Saturdays I would go to the Portland Farmers Market with a friend and a thought occurred to me—selling kimchi here would be perfect! I loved the vibrant produce and atmosphere of the farmers market and it seemed like the perfect match for kimchi–because traditionally, making kimchi is about bringing the community together and sharing your bounty. For me, kimchi wasn’t about making a lot of money, it was more about sharing Korean food and the kimchi my mother would make.
Kimchi 101 from Chong
Kimchi is a very historical food. In Korean, kimchi basically translates to “vegetable brined in salt.” The process of making kimchi is important because long before any modern refrigeration, the vegetables were preserved by the brining process. This preservation method is what sustained many generations of Koreans and makes kimchi a staple for Korean cuisine. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi, too.
Kimchi is a food that Koreans eat every day. All year round and for all meals, kimchi complements any Korean dish and is a food that every Korean household will have. Kimchi is very versatile because it can be used by itself as a side dish or can be used for cooking. It is also a probiotic food that contains healthy bacteria good for your gut.
Generations of Kimchi Makers
Our kimchi is the soul of my grandmother and my mother. These are a part of my family roots, so this is everything to me. In Korea, there is something we call “kimjang.” This is a day where many households in the neighborhood would come together to make enough kimchi to last throughout the winter. It was also necessary since no crops could grow in the winter. During kimjang, I would help my mom and her friends make kimchi and she would often entrust me to be the taster and make sure the kimchi wasn’t too bland or too salty. She always trusted my taste for kimchi and I often think of my mom, who’s now passed, and these cherished memories, on the days we produce kimchi. When I think back, I really do believe I was destined to make kimchi.
On Partnering with Shake Shack
I visited New York to attend a food show with Matt. We saw a long line and I asked, “what is that line for?” We noticed the line was for Shake Shack. We also heard from many friends that there were long lines for Shake Shack hamburgers—even in Korea! So, when the opportunity came to partner with Shake Shack, we were incredibly honored and ecstatic to be a part of this exciting new sandwich. We were also proud that the hard work and effort we put into the quality of our kimchi was being recognized by Shake Shack, all the way across the country!
The kimchi used for Shake Shack is our white napa kimchi, which includes napa cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, garlic, and onions. We worked with the culinary team at Shake Shack to develop a slightly sweeter version, which included adding Korean pear to the recipe. This complements the flavor of the gochujang sauce used for their chicken sandwich.
- – Choi’s produces 2,500 pounds of kimchi a week!
- – Chong is at the factory every day. She supervises the production and still loves making the kimchi.
- – Creating our custom kimchi blend was quite a fun process with only a few adjustments from the first samples tasted to the final product!
- – Chong still makes the kimchi “yangnyum” which is the kimchi seasoning mix.
It all sounds pretty delicious, right? Get your hands on our limited-time Korean-Inspired menu featuring Choi’s Kimchi in our slaw while it’s still around! To skip the wait and for contactless payment and pick-up, order ahead on our Shack App or order.shakeshack.com.