18/03/2022

Soul Dining On The Value Of Community And Building A Success Network

Editorial Team | Interviews

Illa Kim and Daero Lee are helping to define Australian Korean cuisine by pimping classic dishes with punchy Eastern flavours.

With a mission to establish a much needed “cultural hub” for Korean Australians in Sydney, the owners of one-year-old Soul Deli have succeeded in creating an authentic community of food fans by offering a unique blend of dishes, sundries, and delicacies – all with a Korean skew.

The word ‘deli’ will most likely conjure up a particular type of venue, one where small goods and refrigerated counters sling an abundance of meats and cheeses, baked goods, and delicacies – perhaps not taking its cue from Asia.

But at Soul Deli, that’s exactly what you can expect; a beautiful clean space that pulls together café, art gallery and grocery store concepts to provide a one-stop-shop for Asian delights. Be it avocado smash topped with homemade kimchi, Korean schnitzel, omelette with Korean ‘caviar’ or a spicy-sweet spin on chicken and waffles, the owners of this Covid success story are delivering on their promise to “find a fun twist to bestsellers”.

“Our team got together at an emergency meeting
and thought about all the kinds of food that we
would like to eat during the lockdown.”

Kim and Lee are no newbies to the city’s hospitality scene having already achieved acclaim for their more formal concept Soul Dining, a modern Korean restaurant that boasts dishes such as spicey pork jaffles, ashed chicken and blood sausage croquets. Their love of fusion food is prevalent through both Soul Dining and Soul Deli with influences coming from Germany, US and China as well as Korea.

Opening in February 2021, Soul Deli offered a much-needed lifeline to the owners of a fine dining establishment hit hard by lockdowns. “When we first went into the first lockdown, we didn’t know what to do,” explains Kim. “We did take away with [Soul Dining], but it just didn’t work out… So our team got together at an emergency meeting and thought about all the kinds of food that we would like to eat during the lockdown.”

With a resounding consensus that customers would be craving comfort food, the team created a menu built around “bowls of rice topped with our favourite things”. It was a hit and provided the kitchen with a way through the lockdown. When restrictions eased however and the team shifted back to their formal menu, that desire for comfort remained. “The whole community idea came together,” says Kim, “…the reason why we could survive was that everybody was looking after us. We wanted to give back… and then we came across this venue and everything just snowballed”

“We really realised the power of community
and the support network that you need
as a small business.”

Every component of Soul Deli is considered. From the coffee care of Primary Coffee Roasters and the Misty Island pottery, it is served to the art and posters that line the crisp white walls from Seoul-based creative collective Gute Form. Shiny, polished, and deliciously delivered in-store and to your door you would be forgiven for thinking that setting up a hospitality business comes easily for Kim and Lee. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from the get-go with either of their businesses. “When we first started, I think the biggest difficulty that we faced was people we could share, or we could ask questions of.”

After building a local network from restaurants and friends the pair looked to organisations that could help provide additional support. One of those groups was the Surry Hills Creative Precinct, akin to the local chamber of commerce which runs a variety of network events. “We got into a business program offered by the city of Sydney council,” added Kim, which put them through a series of educational events for help with “planning and finances,” as well as “evaluating the business” for growth.

One piece of advice Kim would pass into new business owners is to take cash flow, planning and creating a network seriously as it’s valuable to ‘have other people’s experiences back up your ideas’. “We really realised the power of community and the support network that you need as a small business. We really benefit from the network that we created back then. We still talk to them on a regular basis. That has been invaluable to us.”

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