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Korean restaurateur started with 3 jobs, little sleep

Joe Yoon's Chung Ki Wa restaurant on Dequindre in Sterling Heights built its reputation on Korean barbecue

Charlotte Massey
The Detroit News

Fifth in a series on the many ethnic food businesses on Dequindre between 11 Mile and 17 Mile.

Son Daniel Yoon, left, cooks at the Chung Ki Wa restaurant in Troy owned by his father Joe Yoon, right.

Next door to Mid-East Pastry Delight in the strip mall on the east side of Dequindre and 15 Mile in Sterling Heights sits Chung Ki Wa, a Korean restaurant.

Owner Joe Yoon, who came to the U.S. in 1983, recalls his early days in Virginia as filled with hard work, low pay and little sleep. “The first time it’s hard,” he said. “I have three jobs. The first one dish washing, the second as a cashier, and restaurant work. It’s very, very hard. I sleep first time four hours, first week. The second, a little bit better.”

Yoon eventually moved to the Detroit area and opened his first restaurant, Mene Sushi, in West Bloomfield 17 years ago.

The Koreans are not big fans of sweets; Chung Ki Wa serves only fresh fruit and ice cream for desserts.

They prefer their food spicy.

The restaurant is best known for its Korean barbecue — bulgogi (marinated beef) or other meats cooked on a tabletop grill. Like many other Korean restaurants, Chung Ki Wa also serves sushi. The Koreans and the Japanese share a taste for raw fish, according to proprietor Yoon.

Another favorite is bibimbap, a dish of rice, vegetables and beef.

“Basically we cook the five kinds of vegetable, the carrot and the spinach and the bean sprout, the radish … zucchini, the kind of squash,” said Daniel Yoon, who cooks in the restaurant. “And then we boil it with salt and red pepper. And after that we put the rice on the hot stone bowl, and we put the five vegetable on top of the rice. We make bulgogi beef on the top of vegetable. “

It’s all topped off with a raw egg yolk and hot sauce to taste. The stone bowl heats the cooked rice, making a tasty crust. The diner mixes everything together in the bowl, cooking the egg and heating the vegetables. It’s served with an array of pickled vegetables, which are also served with the barbecue and other dishes. The assortment varies, but always includes kimchee — Napa cabbage marinated in spicy pepper and garlic for at least five days.

“Kimchee, the smell is terrible, “ Joe Yoon says with a laugh. “But if you start it … Koreans everyday eat it.”

Server Sunny Kwon cooks up beef on the in-table grill at Chung Ki Wa in Troy.

On Dequindre, adventures in ethnic food

Punjabi mom’s dishes drive family’s fortunes

Troy's Polish center makes pierogi just like grandma's

Lebanese bakery has loyal Indian customers, too

Coming next in the series at detroitnews.com/special-reports/:

Friday: Pho Thai restaurant