LOS ANGELES – ‘Fun’ is the word 41-year-old entrepreneur Carolyn Kim uses to describe her life when asked about being a mother of twins, a lawyer and working to create America’s Frontline. of premium soju for his award-winning company, Yobo Soju.
What started as an idea to replace traditional rice wine and the headaches that can arise after consuming the drink became the first brand of soju created by a Korean American.
The Los Angeles-based entrepreneur comes with a business story that complements the saying “bet on yourself first”. With minimal knowledge of the wine industry, Kim took the chance in 2015 to create a “modern” soju.
“I decided that I basically wanted to take an advantage, a new challenge,” Kim said. “And I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to create a non-traditional soju.”
Yobo Soju had a humble start. By the time she started the business, she was a full-time lawyer working for legal service organizations while trying to juggle parenting.
“We were struggling. It was not an easy time, but I think I wanted to create that space for myself, to do something creative, ”Kim said.
That “something” was the creation of his grape-based soju fused with his Korean family roots and complementing it with his American cultural identity.
“As far as I know, I think [Yobo Soju is] the only soju made from grapes, and maybe even fruit, ”Kim said.
Yobo Soju is made in the Finger Lakes area of New York City. Given the modern look of the bottle, its simplicity relies on the minimal ingredients of Seneca Lake water, yeast, distilled Catawba grapes and, most importantly, time. Kim’s goal was to create a new twist on traditional soju – a traditional Korean wine made from fermented rice.
Soju has a significant market share in Korea and in international markets with some of the biggest companies, such as HiteJinro, negotiating nearly $ 1 billion in deals. The United States only accounts for about 10% of worldwide soju sales and Kim believes that has to do with the lack of representation in an industry dominated by white men that focuses on Western products.
“As an Asian American woman, I have a little mark,” Kim said. “Trying to sell a spirit that is not really well understood in America, there was a lot of skepticism.”
The low percentage of soju production in the United States correlates with restaurants and bars that are selective with their wine and spirits menus. When it came to selling her product to Western-inspired restaurants, she described it as a tough conversation.
“People were like, ‘Oh, you can sell it at the local sushi restaurant where they also sell sake,’ kind of like a bundle of all Asian products, and that felt dismissive,” she said.
Even Kim’s husband, James Kumm, said he was initially hesitant about his wife starting the business due to the small size of the soju market in the United States. His biggest concern, however, was outside of business.
“At first I was the biggest opponent,” Kumm said. “I was the one who asked him not to do this because we had young children.
Although he disagreed with her at first, he said the strength of their marriage had made him confident in his business decision. Since then, he has supported his entrepreneurial dynamic and has learned to take a step back when it comes to making decisions.
She hopes the time and consideration she devotes to her soju will reflect the future of American restaurants and bars to make them more accepting of Asian wines and spirits. “A modern Korean spirit shouldn’t just be sold in a Korean restaurant or other Asian restaurant,” Kim said.
Yobo Soju will turn six years old in August. Besides Kim’s success in business, she has made room to tap into her activist and philanthropic side when needed most during COVID-19 and deep into the Asian American community.
“These different experiences growing up of Asian American descent, growing up as a child of immigrants, that’s why I decided to get into the law,” Kim said.
Yobo Soju Donates to Asian American Organizations to Raise Public Awareness of Disproportionate Rates of Anti-Asian Crimes Reported Since COVID-19 Onset, and Her Professional Website Provides Resources for Customers Wishing to Donate and Provide Help to the Asian American community.
Kim acknowledged the struggle of small business owners affected by the pandemic and the disparities have pushed minority businesses harder. His company has partnered with Rethink, a non-profit organization specializing in reducing food insecurity, to help underserved communities and send the proceeds of the company’s profits to keep restaurants open.
“We are doing what we can, partnering with different groups as part of local efforts to try to help others who may be suffering from the pandemic,” Kim said.
The entrepreneur will be busy working on his new line of premium soju with celebrity Korean American chef Kristen Kish to create the very first line of premium American flavored soju. She plans to partner with more nonprofits to help communities of color.
As an Asian-American entrepreneur with a successful business and working the full-time jobs of a lawyer and a mother, she refuses to agree to not pursuing her goals because the company said it was was, in her words, “impossible” as a woman.
“I think it stays true to who you are, making sure you draw some boundaries for yourself,” Kim said. “Not just grab the first opportunity because, you know, it’s the easiest.”
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