Women in Business: Ji Hye Kim

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Michigan Daily’s Business Beat spoke to women entrepreneurs across Ann Arbor about their journey, community connection and legacy throughout the month. Read the other stories here.

Located in the heart of Kerrytown, Miss Kim, an award-winning restaurant run by Ji Hye Kim, serves traditional Korean cuisine with a modern twist. Kim opened the restaurant in 2016 as part of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses as part of her Path to Partnership program, which allows anyone, regardless of previous business experience, to apply to either join an existing Zingerman’s business as a partner or, in Kim’s case, to start her own.

Miss Kim is a unique Korean restaurant in more ways than one. For example, the sliding scale business model means customers can choose what they want to pay for 17 of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, with pricing options ranging from free to 1.5 times the dishes’ regular price. The restaurant also recently participated in Ann Arbor’s 2023 Restaurant Week and offers a variety of popular Korean dishes from kimchi to tteokbokki

In her time as a business owner, Kim said she had to learn to earn respect in an industry where women and people of color are underrepresented.

“There were times when the chefs were hired and (it) was a particular challenge because they’re straight male — sometimes straight, white male — chefs and they’re used to working in male-dominated kitchens,” Kim said. “They don’t want to listen to cooks. But at the end of the day it’s my kitchen and my business and if they can’t respect women or a boss. So that’s another positive aspect of owning your own business – you can create an environment that you want to be in yourself.”

Across the country, about 60% of restaurants close within a year of opening, making it clear that starting a new restaurant is no easy task. Kim said Zingerman’s Path to Partnership program helped her provide the resources she needed as a new business owner. Kim started working at Zingerman’s in 2007 after deciding to leave her previous office job and make the leap into the food industry. When she wanted to open her own restaurant, she said Zingerman’s helped her overcome all the challenges that came with that decision.

“Being a small business owner is also challenging because sometimes you don’t have the resources, it’s not really easy or cheap to have your own human resources department or legal advice or accounting help,” Kim said. “I’m lucky because I can get (that kind of) help through Zingerman’s network. If I wasn’t part of Zingerman’s network, these things would be very challenging.”

But even with the support of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Kim still faced challenges. The loneliness and isolation that life as a small business owner brings can take a toll on entrepreneurs, she said, so creating a community of chefs was key to her personal success.

“You often feel isolated running your own business, but you can combat that by being part of a community,” Kim said. “For me, being a part of Zingerman’s means connecting and sharing our common challenges with other chefs, especially wives of chefs of color, in this area of ​​Southeast Michigan, but also across the country. That always helps.”

When asked if she had any advice for other women entrepreneurs, Kim told The Daily what she says to all of Miss Kim’s female staff: to challenge any expectations people may have of women in the kitchen.

“You can’t behave like the patriarchy expects you to,” Kim said. “Don’t take no for an answer. Work with the team. Be strong and speak up and don’t be afraid to leave an environment if it’s not the right environment for you. I think the short way to put it is that you don’t have to conform to what society has set as expectations for women.”

Daily Staff Reporter Mary Corey can be reached at [email protected].

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