Talk about turning the Korner.
Keen observers have probably noticed that The Korner Store, the Korean snack and soju spot on Valencia Street, has closed barely more than a year after its launch. But fear not: It moves on to a bigger space somewhere in the Excelsior or Outer Mission. And, its owner has quietly started a new venture in the old digs.
Enter BoBop, a boba and Korean snack store that spotlights combinations of food and chobop, a Korean version of sushi. BoBop owner Ina Jungin Lee describes chobop as “tofu skin pockets filled with sushi rice and toppings.” In Korean, “chobop” literally means “vinegar rice,” like sushi rice, she said. Variations of the dish beckon in the display case, some heaped with sweet beef bulgogi and tuna.
The store opened quietly last Wednesday. “My strategy is a secret opening. Nobody tell no one,” she said, wearing a mischievous expression and making a “hush hush” motion with her finger. Akin to The Korner Store, BoBop offers rows of Asian snacks on shelves, beer, and a passionfruit soju cocktail on the weekends.
Lee, an immigrant from Seoul, South Korea, animatedly talks while half-dancing to the thumping music, describing “good energy” and her love for beautifying photo apps. She said maintaining food from her culture is also important to her.
“I always want to bring that part to the world, so anybody can experience it,” Lee said. The owner hopes that putting the food in an “effortless,” grab-and-go, convenience-store-like setting at BoBop may encourage less-adventurous folk to try a new food.
“If it’s a sit-down, you have to have a Korean to go in with. This kind of place, you can kind of, ‘Oh what is it?’ And casually try. This door is open to you,” Lee said. “That’s my mission: Korean 101.”
Lee succeeded. So far, she owns and runs other Korean eateries in San Francisco, including Bibim Bar on Bush Street, and Matko, which has a location in the Twitter building and on the Embarcadero. One by one, Lee brought her family members from Korea over the years, and now many, including her mom, An, whip up all the restaurants’ food in a commissary kitchen. Once a month, her mother sells specialties, like her famed soy crab.
“People drive from Sacramento to pick this up. I’m not kidding,” Lee said.
After cementing the bites on the menu, Lee needed a signature beverage. She chose boba, and thus, by combining the words “boba” and “chobop,” the store’s name “BoBop” was born.
Though boba isn’t traditionally Korean, Lee thought it was the perfect complement to her flavorful food. Boba is the drink of many an Asian youth (guilty), and those youth have grown up and are craving an aesthetic, fun spot where they can enjoy their tea. Just one look at the projector streaming street-food cooking videos on the shop’s back wall demonstrates Lee’s commitment to that vibe.
The huge reception of Lee’s former business, The Korner Store, shocked her.
Fans of The Korner Store may recall that the tiny space at 736 Valencia St. could barely contain all the customers who would gather for soju cocktails and an after-party atmosphere. Adorned with loud neon signs and DJ sets, good times seemed to spill out of the store, drawing plenty of crowds.
The capacity is one major reason Lee moved The Korner Store out. The other was to ensure it didn’t get too noisy past 10 p.m. The passion fruit soju cocktail really hits different, you know?
“People wanted a bigger, later party,” Lee said.
She hopes to reopen the bar and snack concept in a larger venue in a few weeks. The exact spot has yet to be determined.
Try BoBop at 780 Valencia St. Soft opening hours are Sunday to Thursday from 11 to 6 p.m., and Fridays 11 to 9 p.m. Eventually, Lee wants to operate it seven days a week, 11 to 9 p.m.