Shilbee got in touch with us about her mother's restaurant in the Village by the Grange. We're always down to try great Italian food and were amazed by the food at The Fresh Italian Eatery. Emily Kim inspires repeat visits through creating delicious dishes in the city's most underrated food court. She was gracious enough to sit down with us for a chat.
Sadi: So how long have you been open here?
Emily: Almost two years now. In June it will be two years.
Sadi: When is it most busy here?
Emily: Lunch time we’re usually busy. Twelve to two.
Sadi: Why did you decide to open an Italian restaurant?
Emily: Italian food is very popular around the world. Everyone knows Italian food. Also Korean food and Italian food is very similar, in terms of some recipes, so I felt it would be easy.
S: Before you opened an Italian restaurant, what kind of work were you doing?
Emily: In Korea, I was a Japanese teacher. I studied Japanese in my University life, and when I came here I worked in a Hamburger store for three years.
S: What do you want people to know about your restaurant here?
E: It all tastes very good! Also our tradition is based on treating the customer very well.
S: What’s the most popular dish here?
E: For vegetarians, the eggplant is very popular. Every day there’s a daily special as well. Pulled chicken, veal, and chicken parm is very popular. Oh and also the lasagna. You know some people have told me ‘How can you make this better than Italians!?’ They can’t find homemade lasagna, so it’s nice to hear them say ‘My Mom makes it like this…my Grandma makes it like this.’
S: How do you feel when people say that?
E: I feel so proud of myself.
S: When you’re not working at the restaurant and you want to go out to eat, where do you go?
E: Korean food. Sometimes I make it myself, sometimes I go to a restaurant.
S: If you were going to pass away, what would your last meal be?
E: I don’t know the name, but my Mom usually made it in the winter time. It’s a very spicy very sour, and some kind of special fish inside. I can’t remember the name of it but I remember she would take a few days to make it at home. We had to wait longer than a week for it to cook and ferment. So delicious!
S: When you opened up this restaurant, did anyone give you a really helpful piece of advice?
E: My mother and father always told me ‘You are a really good cook! You have a really special sense for it.’ The same way a musician has a sense for music, cooks also have that sense. An artistic mind makes a good cook I think. I never thought I would become a cook though. I thought I would be a housekeeper and cook at home, but never run a restaurant.
S: What’s your favorite part about the job?
E: I enjoy every moment. I love seeing customers and I always treat them like they’re the best customer, and sometimes like a lover. I told my worker, you have to treat everybody like they’re your lover. The way your lover comes to your place and you say ‘What can I make you?’
S: What’s your least favorite part about the job?
E: Long hours we have to work. In the morning I arrive around eight or nine o’clock. And sometimes I close around nine. So it’s long hours some days. But we’re used to that to be honest. In Korea when I was a student, we would study like that. Even on Saturday we would go to school. Our generation studied very hard.
S: If someone was going to open a restaurant today, what advice would you give them?
E: It’s very hard. If you like to cook, open. If you don’t like to cook, then don’t open. It’s not easy.
Alex: Why did you decide to start an Italian restaurant here in this food court?
E: After my Hamburger store closed, I was looking around for another place to open something. And here I noticed there were many students, it was very busy. That’s why I decided on here.
S: Has anything changed in the two years since you’ve been here?
E: Oh yeah. OCAD has expanded to a new building and many students have a Residence there now and go to other places for food. Also the AirMiles company a few blocks away moved out so our business was effected. It was a big change because of all the new construction going on in the area.
S: Do you pay attention to online reviews or your online presence? If so, how do you respond to the negative ones?
Shilbee (Emily’s daughter): She doesn’t have a huge presence online, but we do look at major ones like Yelp, and we do love feedback, especially negative feedback. When people take the time to send you constructive criticism there’s value there, other people may feel the same way. We try and showcase the items our customers respond to with positive feedback, and work on and improve on the negative feedback we receive.
S: Do you ever read a review or feel like it was unfair or dishonest? Or they weren’t being entirely accurate?
Shilbee: So there is some feedback where it starts with ‘Oh there was a change in ownership to an Asian woman…’ that’s when I sometimes have to assess whether it’s coming from an unconscious bias towards Asian people making Italian food, and people thinking that’s inherently wrong or less delicious for some reason. So yes it does happen.
S: So I think that’s everything for us! Thank you both very much for your time, we really appreciate you sitting down with us!
The Fresh Italian Eatery
109 McCaul St. #42