Seoul of London: The Seoul Bakery Story.

It reads "Welcome - Seoul Cafe."

If you stay in this 'quintessential hole in the wall' for too long, you might forget you're in London. Sitting at a little corner in London's Centre point, Seoul Bakery could easily be missed! But, if you're lucky enough to spot it, a step inside will have you  falling in love with it's charm at first sight. 

If there ever was a tourist guide for Korea in London, Seoul Bakery will be right at the hub of the kpop and foodie section! Known for the best kimbap in town, Koreans in London and visiting Koreans— including some Kpop idols along with Londoners have sat at this cramped restaurant surrounded by it's quirky and unique interior.

Sadly due to the expansion going on at Tottenham Court road station, a lot of businesses had to shut down or relocate along with this iconic symbol of a place. I had a chance however to have a chat with it's owner Hoja Sun before it shut down.

Walking down the tiny staircase leading to the basement —otherwise known as Hoho's Kpop shop— lined with notes and scribbles of Fans of Korea, I couldn't help but feel a sense of belonging laced with comfort and a nostalgia for what was about to be lost. I walked into the room and asked for the owner, I was introduced to this warm and welcoming Ahjumma who was nice enough to spare a few minutes of what appeared to be a busy lunchtime. We spoke about everything from food to kpop, indicating's Seoul bakery fusion of Music and Food in equal proportion.

Hoja Sun or Hoho as everyone calls her is from Jejudo island and she moved to London in 1996 from Korea.  She has had about 18 years experience working in the Korean food business in London, and it can be said that she has witnessed the effect of the Hallyu wave on the international community and the Korean food industry here.

Starting off as a waitress at a Korean restaurant she recalls back when 80% of her job was explaining to customers what Bibimbap was—now everyone knows including actors Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield  whom have fallen in love with this comfort food.  There are still the odd people who have no clue about Korean food but it has come a long way.

The concept for what is known as Seoul Bakery started off as a bakery specializing in Korean pastries— hence the name— before it got transformed into a restaurant. At first it was your run-of-the-mill restaurant, with plain walls and seating. But then Hoho wanted to display some Korean memorabilia, and so she put up random things like stickers and socks on the walls, which eventually caught the attention of curious customers, some even asking if they could buy the products. With the increased popularity of kpop, and generally the influx of the Hallyu wave, Korean establishments abroad have seen an increase in their customer base and so did Seoul Bakery. Kpop fans started requesting for specific items from Korea and so Hoho's Kpop shop was born!

At first Hoho bought things that she liked on her trips back to Korea without a preconception as to what her customers may like but lately with popular bands like Big Bang and EXO dominating the music charts, her younger customers seem to be more interested in that.

"When I go to Korea and see something interesting, I think my customer might like this. It doesn't have to be sold, it will be nice as a display".

With Kpop Idol group Shinee and Super Junior's Donghae being customers at the store, with their autograph on the walls, Kpop fans have a special interest in Seoul Bakery. This has made the store an unofficial tourist destination and Kpop fans from other countries make it a point of visiting the famous restaurant. Well for all of you curious as to how the idols ended up at Hoho's Restaurant, It was because of their stylists. The Kpop Idols Korean stylists attended a fashion institute in London which was not far from the store, so they were regular customers and through word of mouth the store became popular which resulted in our favourite stars eating there.

"I wanted my customers to be happy when they visit my store, it's not just about the food. Food is culture, when they love our food, a relationship is sort of built from that and they become regular customers."

A section of what the restaurant looks like. Disclaimer: The entire store is covered in scribbles and memories.

Hoho might well be the coolest ahjumma I have met—not that I've met a lot I had a nice time talking to her and delving into the quriky world she built for herself here in London. We had a bit of a 'fangirling' moment talking about how great Big Bang and 2NE1 were. Hoho told me about the days when she was younger and liked artists such as the legendary singer, Cho Yong Pil, whom might have popped up on the rader of this generations fans, with his 19th Album Hello which debuted at #1, making him take the stage at Korean Music shows like Music Show Champion. She was one of his biggest fans and still isshe told me that she went to his concert about two years ago!

"Although there has been some changes in the music scene over the years, one thing that remains constant is the heart of the fans and their spirit" which makes Hoho understand this generation's Music Fans and relate to them. Owning a Kpop store is not just about business for her, she enjoys music and sharing Korean culture with the people and visitors of London.
"When I go to Korea and find new items relating to the bands my customers like, I get excited and want to show it to them."
Hoho tries to create a bit of diversity in the products that she sells, you could find handmade Korean cards, ceramics, movies, and so much more. So although the Kpop shop caters mostly to the kpop fans, She wants to in a way showcase other aspect of Korean entertainment and products as well.

Well I had a sort of 'last meal' before the store closed and it was soooo good!

Seoul Bakery was opened even before Korea became very popular in London and so I wondered what sort of things people wanted to know about Korea back then. Hoho said the biggest question she got was about North Korea. Then people wanted to know about the language. "People ask me about Kim Yuna, the figure Skater."
"People thought I knew everything about Korea or the popsters. I tried to tell them as much as I knew even if it was just a little".
With Korean food becoming a hot trend in the food industry, I asked Hoho if over the years she has noticed a dish that is most popular amongst the customers?

"Bibimbap I believe is very popular with everyone. However my husband and I have lived in Japan for some time and so we know a lot about Japanese and Chinese people, and what we find most surprising is that  back then not many people liked ddeokbokki, but these days there has been a change in that dynamic. A lot of our customers especially order ddeokbokki a lot. I think this might be as a result of the popularity of Korean dramas. In a lot of theses dramas, the actors eat ddeokbokki which may have contributed to it's increasing popularity."

However Hoho added this 
"Food is culture, if you try a food three times you might end up liking it. You can't say this food is better than this food. The difference is that have you tried it or not!"

This reminded me of my kimchi story which I shared with her and she agreed comparing it to how when she was a child, she didn't like kimchi but she had to eat it and she grew to like it. Apparently it is common to find Koreans who didn't like Kimchi but now can't eat a meal without kimchi.

Notes from some staff and customers, including an Artwork of the shop.

It is a general reaction, everyone misses Seoul Bakery and we can't wait for the store to re-open.
I know we all have the question of whether the store will re-open and if the original concept of the store will be in place or if there will be changes made. Well Hoho is not sure, although she wants to keep it exactly the way it is but some part of her wants to branch out into something new. A new challenge. But all this will depend on the new location and area, then they will focus and decide on what direction the store will take. However recent posts of mouth-watering korean dishes on the Seoul Bakery Facebook with captions of "New Menu" hinting plans of re-opening has already started creating a buzz! One thing that is certain however is that it will be Korean oriented and continue to express the Korean culture.

Have you been to Seoul Bakery, Any interesting stories to share and what will you miss the most about it. Share with us in the comments  :) 

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