KAREN PARK has found success in the restaurant industry, but it hasn’t come without stress.
Park is no stranger to the business world. Arriving in the U.S. in 1984 with only a handful of cash and a dream, she worked her way through several successful businesses to become the owner of several restaurants.
“Back at that time, not many ladies owned restaurants,” Park says. “It was pretty hard. I had to face all of those hardships myself. Now I can use my former experience to handle my employees, to get good supplies, to run a good business.”
She faced challenges throughout her journey. Owning any business is a financial risk, but especially so with restaurants. To make things work, Park had to learn a bit of everything to shave costs where she could.
“I worked for everything myself,” Park says. “I did construction, I did general contracting, layout. I liked it.” Along with figuring out the logistics of her restaurants, she had to learn the human element of them.
Park recalls a time when she was developing a Japanese restaurant in 1996.
“When I started, Japanese sushi chefs didn’t really trust women,” she says. “They don’t want me to touch the fish. They say my hands are too warm.” She chuckles and continues. “It’s all just excuses. They said, ‘You’re a Korean woman. You don’t know Japanese food.’ So I studied. I created some rolls, some dishes, and I paid them on time, always. They trusted me after that.”
Her first Korean restaurant, Ari Korean BBQ, has been with her for some time. She runs it and three other restaurants with her sons and daughter-in-law.
Park remembers when she was growing her family, keeping her restaurant afloat while juggling the cornucopia of responsibilities required with raising children. She wasn’t without help for long, as one of her sons, Eugene, started to join her endeavors.
“Eugene started helping me since when he was in elementary school,” she says. “He helped me a lot. He stayed with me all the time.” While Eugene and his mother split responsibilities among the restaurants, Karen continues to look for the next opportunity. Ari has remained a fan favorite, with a second location prospering in Plano, alongside Edoko Sushi, Robata and their latest, Korean Street Eats.
While Park has certainly laid the groundwork for female business owners behind her, there are still challenges women entrepreneurs have to face.
“First of all, you have to have some capital,” Park says. “That’s just the money problem. You have to be ready for hardships. Doing business means you have to sacrifice a lot. You have to forget about vacations. Your mind can’t rest. If you can handle all the stress, then you can start.
“You can do it,” Park says. “I had a dream. I went to school. I worked. I built up the business, and I am thankful now that I made my restaurants successful.”