K-Pop Boss Opens Sleek Korean Grill in New York

Singer and leading K-pop producer Park Jin-young has entered the restaurant business in the US with a Korean grill called Kristalbelli on Manhattan’s 36th Street.

“I think the image of Korean food is as important as its popularity,” Park said. “To give foreigners the impression that Korean food is fine cuisine, we need to target trend-setters.”

Kristabelli is located in the heart of a growing Koreatown area in Manhattan’s mid-town area not far from the Empire State Building. Its 6,000 square feet are decorated to look and feel more like an elegant bar or lounge than a typical Korean restaurant.

The restaurant features a crystal grill that works like a convex mirror that cooks meat quickly and efficiently by focusing infra-red energy. The grill was designed by Park himself. Initially associates at his namesake JYP Entertainment resisted the idea, citing Park’s lack of experience in the restaurant business.

“So I made drawings for the grill myself,” said Park. “I invested W30 million ($28,400) of my own money, and had them broil meat on the grill and eat it. Then they agreed to the plan.”

The grill is equipped with a fan unit that sucks the smoke down and away from customers, protecting them from the smell that typically infuses clothing at Korean barbecue restaurants. Park has mastered the art of grilling meat and has written a manual with which to train staff.

“I’ve met a lot of people in show business overseas, and they often asked me to recommend a Korean restaurant, saying that they heard Korean food is good,” said Park to explain why he’s entering the restaurant business. “But I couldn’t think of any I would confidently recommend.”

Park plans ultimately to expand Kristalbelli by opening branches in cities with a large Korean cultural presence, including Los Angeles, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul.

Park, 40, was a popular singer and performer in Korea before venturing to the US with the goal of becoming a songwriter and producer for American pop stars. With the experience he returned to Korea to found JYP entertainment. He discovered Rain in 2000 and turned him into one of Asia’s biggest stars. Park is the creative force behind the K-pop girl group the Wonder Girls who made its US debut in 2009. The group has recently completed a new album that will be released exclusively in the US market.