Jin Myung’s Second Time Around

Written by: Geneva Nodland

Whether you want to call it fate, a second chance, or a tactical business move, Jin Myung made the decision to return to the FM area this year to begin a not-so-new adventure as a restauranteur. What separates her from this business opening and her previous one in the Valley is 20 years of experience, exposure, and education—and she proves that each day.

Jin flipping the beef short rib for the Kabli dish.

About 20 years ago, in 2004, Myung saw an opportunity to bring something new to the FM area, stemming from a craving—literally. At the time, there were no restaurants in the entire state of North Dakota that served sushi or other authentic Korean or Japanese food. Myung had an idea and ran with it, having no experience in the restaurant industry besides being a patron of one and recently moving to the Midwest from the melting pot of cuisine, New York.

Did You Know?
When Yuki Hana Grill and Sushi opened in 2004, it was the first restaurant in the state of North Dakota to serve sushi!

The next year or so would be filled with ups and, of course, downs. There was so much to learn when she opened Yuki Hana Grill and Sushi, and she didn’t really have the hang of it until months after opening.

Opening Yuki Hana Grill and Sushi

“I just missed those foods, like Japanese and Korean. So I thought, ‘I’m gonna open a small restaurant, just a noodle shop.’ But this place popped up and I hired someone to set up the first sushi bar. I didn’t know anything, anything. I couldn’t speak English very much back then, no business mindset, nothing.”

Myung’s driving force was that Fargo needed more food variety, but her passion for bringing this cuisine to the city could only get her so far.

I just missed those foods, like Japanese and Korean. So I thought, I’m gonna open a small restaurant, just a noodle shop.”

– Jin Myung

Chef Derek Kinoshita making the egg for the Loco Moco dish.

“So I tried, I opened, and then from there, it was a totally different world for me. I didn’t know what I got into, but once you open it, [there’s a] contract, everything there,” she said. “Then I brought three sushi chefs from Hawaii, California, and New York. So I set it up nicely. It was quite a journey, one and a half years were really slow because nobody was eating sushi. But I did the bento box… It was 13 months just to catch on to sushi, then that was the boom, and [people] lined up.”

The bento boxes from Yuki Hana were filled with Korean food, miso soup, and two pieces of California roll. Using the box as a way to have customers test out the sushi led to an explosion of customer interest. At one point, a customer walked in to see what kind of food the restaurant had. When Myung explained to him that sushi was raw fish, he told her she seemed like a nice lady, but that her restaurant was going to shut down in a few months because “we don’t eat raw fish.”

Myung told him that the only thing she believed in was that sushi was going to be a trend moving forward.

“I had to bet on that. And [I told him], ‘Who knows? Maybe you’re going to become my regular customer.’ And he became my regular customer,” she said.

Over one year, I touched all the tables myself, one by one by one, explaining what cuisine I was providing and selling here, how to use chopsticks, what wasabi was. [Customers had] no idea.”

– Jin Myung

Throughout that first year and a half, Myung worked to see what would bring customers through the doors of Yuki Hana. When the restaurant began to rise in popularity, she was once featured in a local publication saying she had an entrepreneurial mindset, but Myung admits that at that time, she didn’t. She did have something else that would help her business, and her understanding of it, grow.

“Over one year, I touched all the tables myself, one by one by one, explaining what cuisine I was providing and selling here, how to use chopsticks, what wasabi was. [Customers had] no idea.”

During that time, Myung grew close with her customers, who then shared their positive experiences at Yuki Hana with friends, who brought more and more friends in to meet Myung and try and learn about food new to them.

Changes & Moves

When the Fargo location was steady, Myung caught the restauranteur bug and went to Las Vegas to open a second location. In the city of lights, surrounded by sparkling stones and sleek interiors, being served and waited on in elegant restaurants with staff sizes of 75, immersed in the music playing around her, and access to a full sushi bar; Myung said she thinks she fell in love. Putting logic aside, in 2008, she opened Sea Stone in Las Vegas, a sushi and gourmet fusion restaurant, and she recruited Derek Kinoshita from Caesars Palace Hotel to be the chef at that restaurant. But, with no preparation or warning, just as many others felt, the restaurant struggled in the 2009 economy and unfortunately had to shut down. Refocusing on Yuki Hana in Fargo, now with the start of other sushi and Japanese cuisine competitors popping up in town, Myung brought Chef Derek Kinoshita to the Valley to help update the menu and restaurant.

A bowl of ramen, which isn’t planned to join the menu until wintertime… but let the anticipation grow because it does taste as good as it looks!

After 10 successful years of operating, Yuki Hana in the FM area closed and Myung had to move to Texas in 2014 to receive medical care for a family member. After a few years in chemotherapy, her loved one’s health increased, and in 2017 she moved back to Las Vegas. Instead of returning to the restaurant industry, Myung began to study for her real estate license. But with another new subject, comes new challenges.

Vegas Learning Curve

“The real estate business was really new to me. I had to take the test for my state license to become an agent, and when I studied, [it was] 700 pages in English. I was getting familiar with the vocabulary related to the restaurant business finally, and then I was starting a new totally different area. I opened the book’s first page and I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is not English.’ So I needed a dictionary on the side.”

Over time, with a trusty dictionary by her side, Myung started to catch on. She learned the material and passed her test to obtain her real estate license in the state of Nevada in 2019, which she still has today. She tried residential real estate for about a year before she said that didn’t click with her so she tried to focus on commercial real estate with Keller Williams Realty’s commerical division.

“I was so new, but I wasn’t there yet. At the meetings, I couldn’t understand what they were saying in English. Maybe I understood 60% [of it], but they talked too fast. So I couldn’t understand what they were talking about in the meeting… They’re talking about the airport, and I couldn’t even lease out one freaking 2,000 [sq. ft.] office space, so I saw the gap. [I thought,] this will take another seven years, but I like it.”

She enjoyed her commercial real estate career, so she thought about how she could up her game to get more on the level with her peers. She figured that instead of taking multiple years to climb in the real estate business, she would look into another avenue. She decided to study a little bit more to become a business broker as well and received her permit in 2020.

“[I thought,] let’s study a little bit more, only 350 pages more. I studied again and I passed that business broker permit that I got on top of the commercial agent. Now, I’m dealing with a business.”

A deliciously comfy and warm Chicken Katsu meal!

Something that sets Soho 23 apart is their authentic Korean BBQ sauce—made from scratch and a recipe that Myung has used for three decades! This was one of the pride and joys of Yuki Hana and will be incorporated once again at Soho 23.

When any business wanted to sell, she would evaluate the business’ worth and find the right buyer. Myung would evaluate businesses and review the seller and buyer’s finance, as well as negotiate with the landlord for best interest for the buyer when they take over the lease.

From there, using her real estate and business broker licenses, Myung found her niche in something she was familiar with—restaurants. With her career, Myung could work with businesses to get completely set up. After finding the right space and location, Myung paired her license and permit, along with her own experience, and could then help businesses secure favorable prices in their beginning stages—it was the complete package.

“Now, I’m dealing with a business. Right there, I can close this thing that I’ve done forever. I just got the permit, I have a mentor. [Clients] talk about the number and it’s in here,” Myung said pointing to her head. “If it’s a restaurant, I can see the value already, costs already. How much money you put in… how the fit-up costs work, inspection, whatever it is… I didn’t even have to look at the manual. So, that was the right place. And then the landlord called me.”

Returning to FM

The same landlord of the 25th Street Market spot that Yuki Hana had operated out of for 10 years had a vacancy, as Himalayan Yak was moving to a new location in Fargo. So, they called to see if Myung was interested in coming back. She thought, “I’m fine here, life is good, I just got settled,” but soon enough she was heading back up to North Dakota.

Myung visited Fargo a few times after that call, and between the landlord and the owner of Himalayan Yak, Bijay, she was convinced to make the move back and open up again. She called Chef Derek and asked if he would be interested in returning to Fargo as well, and he said, “Why not?”

“In Vegas, there are too many things going on. I found that the restaurant business saved me during that time, I liked it, but it’s really tough for business. But I think, you know, [with] the good and bad, in the time I was there I trained myself in all the skills, not just business mindset, but the operation, I can function in any position. So my level is different than 10 years ago.” she said. “We decided to [open], because I [thought], ‘What is the chance that you come back to the same restaurant that you set up in for 10 years?’ So I decided to take the chance and try again.”

So, Soho 23 began to develop. Myung, now with 10 years of experience in the FM restaurant scene plus a few in the restaurant and business brokerage world, has been working to refamiliarize herself with the community and combine that with her new skillset that was developed over her years in Vegas. Yuki Hana will not technically be reopened, Soho 23 is its own restaurant with its own look, feel, and menu.

“I won’t do the sushi this time, there are too many sushi restaurants out there. The all-you-can-eat and then the fish price is crazy. Labor is hard to find,” she said.

Myung said she doesn’t want to eat or serve low-level quality sushi, so until she can confidently serve the highest level, it won’t be on the menu. But as soon she can, she does hope to add it. That doesn’t mean she is not figuring out how to make Soho stand out just as Yuki Hana did.

Did You Know?
Soho 23 will have its liquor license, serving beer, wine, and Korean soju—a popular drink that is clear, distilled alcohol traditionally made from rice, wheat, or barley. There aren’t many places in the FM area where you can try this type of drink!

New Perspectives

What’s different this time around—Myung is no stranger to the struggles and isn’t afraid to ask questions that a new restaurant owner might want to avoid, as well as identify areas that might be overlooked by some.

“To do it right, I cannot get certain ingredients still. The labor, it’s hard to train the people. And then how many people are looking for Korean food every day? Like in a big city? So, you need to fill [the restaurant] up with two and a half times of sales to make a profit a day. Now I can see that those numbers make the money… Fargo has gotten really big, I just checked the population. I can see how big, but when I’m running around, still, the majority of the restaurants are big franchises and American concepts, and I think it’s a lot of a bar drinking. The bar food, those are more popular, major money goes there. So, in this kind of mom-and-pop business, it’s hard to survive. But once again, it’s moving forward.”

Myung won’t necessarily describe herself as more “confident” upon opening Soho 23 than when she opened Yuki Hana, she is just more experienced, and that experience gives her the edge and the critical thinking skills to feel better prepared. What she will confidently say? That’s she’s not afraid.

“Nobody knows what the result [will be], but at least I can react better—that’s the way I want to say it. I cannot control certain things, but how to manage and make decisions, that’s very important. That determines success or failure results. I’ve gone through a lot of hardship, and then it was good, and sometimes I had to deal with certain things that I’m not familiar with. But now, in this, I’m not scared, that’s what I can say.”

Her time between Yuki Hana and Las Vegas, and even in opening and shortly closing her second location, Sea Stone, granted Myung some of the best, hands-on learning she could get.

“I never went to class for English. I never went to class for business. I had to learn from scratch and expose myself for that time, but it’s in me. Nobody can take it away. Because I didn’t memorize it, I lived it, and I learned that. So I can manage better, see things better, and make decisions better. I’m still learning, I don’t know how it’s going to be, but I can find out if it doesn’t work, I can try different a angle. My capability to overcome has gotten better. That’s what it is—an endless journey.”

“If you’re scared about it, you better not even start it. You can complain or cry—I did that. I did all of those things, and it doesn’t change anything. You walk out or keep going. Either way, there is no middle. You survive or you are out, that’s really what it is. That is your bottom line.”

Don’t Sink With Your Ship

Although she has the “do it or don’t” business mindset, Myung isn’t scared to admit that there were really tough times. She recalled that when she was opening Yuki Hana, she both physically and mentally pushed herself to get the place going. She was sick and had even passed out from the pressure, stress, and labor. After that, she was greatly tested when she had to close down her Las Vegas restaurant.

“When I shut that down, I thought I was dying. I invested so much money, and I never failed in my life up to that point. I couldn’t take it, it didn’t work. I didn’t talk to anybody for three months, I had to let it go. But, I took advice from business persons who operated restaurant businesses—they asked me, ‘Are you giving up on yourself? Are you done because of this project?’ No, but it was hurting, [I was] so hurt. I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “The advice was to never use the word fail. That does not exist unless you give up on yourself.”

Myung took the advice to not “sink with your ship.”

“Just get out of there. Then come up to the surface, out from the water, and then swim and get out of there. So, I didn’t give up on myself. I was so sad to let that go, but I took the advice from those people.”

After dealing with the hardship of closing her restaurant, Myung made the decision to swim, and “clean up her mess.” She began navigating herself out of debt that was built from that time and moved forward.

“You have to make the decision to determine if you’re going to keep going or give up but to never think you failed,” she said.

In running a business, regardless of the industry, Myung says you have to have your heart in it—no matter what, the passion for what you do must be there for it to be successful. And she makes sure to keep those with like minds around her and her business.

“You have to love what you’re doing. I respect my chef… he can cook pretty much any cuisine. His background is French, Italian, and American, and he’s from Hawaii— so a fusion. He used to work for a huge Thai and Vietnamese family in Las Vegas, he was a chef for the family and they owned seven restaurants. So, he has an open mind and he doesn’t mind Koreanspecific cuisine or the menu that I have, which is small compared with theirs, but he respects that and he will learn from [what] customers share from here. He’ll ask, ‘What do you like?’ Because there is no set way to do it, [you don’t have to do it like] in a big city… he tries to listen.”

No matter how customers enjoy the food, be it dine-in or take-out, Myung says that it’s important to both her and Chef, that they do just that—enjoy it. They are able to ensure that because of their working relationship between owner, chef, and community.

“I keep working with [Chef] and we still learn. We are still open ears to the people and what they say, and we learn from the other business people who got over the challenges and then made it… I want to spend my time surrounded by the people who made it, so then I can learn something.”

Power of the Double-Up

What allowed Myung to connect with the community the first time around with Yuki Hana is something she’ll still incorporate with Soho 23. While she says she will focus on other areas of the restaurant and continue learning as well, she understands the importance of creating a bond with your restaurant’s patrons. In July, Soho had its soft opening and since has been operating by word of mouth and with no advertising. Myung said it has been nice to hear feedback and learn about a few of the customers who have already become regulars.

“I learned through the business, not just the restaurant business, [that] I believe in the power of the double up. You put a double of 1, 20 times, and it’s 1 million. I couldn’t believe it. I saw the number on the paper; 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8 and it keeps going, 20 times double up,” Myung said. “So if I take really good care of one table, they bring another table. It doesn’t always work that way, but it works that way sometimes. So, I wait the tables, and I never look down on one single table. They bring another table. You don’t know what’s coming in, then they have a birthday party, then 10 people are there with other people. The research [says] that one person knows an average of 250-300 people in their life. Then if you love what I’m doing, you’re gonna tell your list.”

There is an advantage that Myung has in opening up another restaurant here in the FM area, even though the city looks different than it did 10 years ago— she has friends. She said that old customers of Yuki Hana have visited Soho 23 to say hello and try out the menu. She even has a part-time employee who’s working at Soho, who used to work at Yuki Hana.

“She has a full-time job as a paralegal. She comes in at six today after work, willing to help me out because she wants to see success. That’s so cool, I really appreciate that thought. An old employee was in for lunch today, she just found out. I don’t advertise, because I don’t want to get slammed and mess up.”

Different than what she did with Yuki Hana, where she opened immediately and learned as she went, Soho started by slowly building up its workload and testing out menu items before launching a large menu and advertising its business. They officially opened in July, operating at a “soft opening” until about mid-October in order to test the waters.

Soho 23

Serves comfort and Korean cuisine, but there’s quite a bit more in store.

“I’m serving more Korean food and more street food. [I first thought] that’s not our concept, that’s too casual, but when I think about it, I’m doing the business of what people are looking for. Food is food, it is not really high-end like touching your napkin and chopsticks every minute. It isn’t like that, I want people to come, and be comfortable, and I want to have the food that they’re looking for. So I’m gonna add in more and more and more, not everything because once again, there is a limited source of ingredients still, it’s hard to get it, and then costs aren’t up for the business. Then we’re going to add ramen in wintertime… If it takes longer than I think, I’m gonna set up a skewer bar, like a Yakitori bar. So, the grill in front of you, instead of the sushi bar.”

And as sweet as it is to think that Myung was so moved by the landlord’s words that she decided to move back, it wasn’t just the call that convinced her.

“So, I have something lined up in my mind. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have come just because someone called me—I made the decision by researching a little bit.”

And in that research, paired with her hands-on experience in the restaurant and business world over the last 20 years, and topped with a bit of love for the Fargo-Moorhead area—Myung had the perfect recipe to return to the same spot she started her business journey years ago to try something new again.

Myung’s journey from opening her first restaurant, Yuki Hana, and facing the closure of her Las Vegas venture, to her self-driven education in her real estate and business broker careers has shaped her into a seasoned entrepreneur, to say the least. She has learned invaluable lessons, honed her skills, and developed a deep understanding of the industry. Now, with Soho 23, Myung is combining her expertise with a fresh perspective on Korean and comfort cuisine. She and her team’s commitment to providing an exceptional dining experience, fostering community connections, and constantly seeking improvement sets her and Soho 23 apart.

“At least now, after 20 years I look back, [with] the good and bad— that’s business. Nobody guarantees your results. But you need to have a mindset when you commit, you have to be ready, [because] you’re going to face it.”

Visit Soho 23 at Fargo’s 25th Street Market, in the south-end suite, where Himalayan Yak used to operate, or where Yuki Hana used to be located.

1450 25th St S Fargo, ND
Facebook | / Soho 23

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Geneva is an Editor at Spotlight Media and writes for Fargo Monthly, Trendsetters and Fargo Inc. She is also a professional photographer.