Korean-Canadian businesses say Olympics is helping them score customers

The Canadian Press
Korean-Canadian businesses say Olympics is helping them score customers
Korean-Canadian businesses say Olympics is helping them score customers

TORONTO — The Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea have Canadian athletes scooping up medals far from home, but the Games have also been a win for Korean businesses in Canada.

In the weeks before and since the Olympics began, owners of Korean stores and restaurants across the country said they have seen increased traffic and sales from customers interested in the culture of 2018 Olympic host country.

Foodora, a food delivery service operating in most Canadian provinces, said Korean food orders were up 16 per cent two weeks ago and increased by another 13 per cent last week, when the opening ceremonies kicked off the Games.

So many people have been flocking to Home of Hot Taste's two Greater Toronto Area restaurants for Korean chicken, an Asian delicacy that is often crispier than the average fried chicken, that manager Angela Yoo has had to help out in the kitchen and ask chefs to work longer hours.

"Suddenly everyone wants Korean food and there is a high demand for our chicken because a lot of Koreans eat chicken and beer together."

Ottawa-based Kochu, which serves sushi and Korean cuisine, has also seen "an uptick in interest" in its offerings, said manager James Macleod.

Its Pyeongchang Combo Box, which includes bulgogi, Japchae noodles, Kimbap and shrimp tempura has been a particular hit.

"We do know there is a positive connection between South Korea hosting the Olympics and people sampling Korean food that they wouldn't have otherwise or coming back to it because they haven't had it in awhile," he said.

"One guy came in and said he was familiar with Korean food, but his wife and daughter weren't, so he thought it would be appropriate to bring them some Korean food while they watch the Games."

At Hanji Gifts, a Toronto-based paper and stationery company whose three locations are stocked with 95 per cent Korean-made items, owner Catherine Choi said the Olympics demand caught her by surprise.

"It didn't occur to me that it would impact interest until someone came and cleared us out of a particular Korean, pop-up card," she said.

The customer told Choi's staff she was stocking up on the cards, priced at $5.95 a piece, and packs of stickers depicting Korean city scenes to gift to Olympians.

Shortly after, another customer came in to nab most of Hanji's stock of roughly 30 Korean paper fans, which were handpainted in the Olympics host country and feature floral and bird designs. The customer planned to use the fans, which cost $37 apiece, as decor at an event, Choi said.

Choi has also received a handful of Facebook and email inquiries about Olympics products.

"Maybe I should have thought of doing an Olympics promotion, but we were just getting over Christmas and getting into Valentine's Day, so I wasn't thinking about it," she said.

Hodo Kwaja Bakery in Toronto's Koreatown landed a big Games order from Cadillac Fairview.

Suki Lee, whose family owns the bakery, said the mall operator ordered more than 5,000 hodo kwaja, the bakery's namesake cake that looks like a walnut and is filled with sweet red beans or mashed potatoes.

"When they said the amount, I thought, is this a prank call?" said Lee, laughing. "An average person would usually buy a 30-piece box or if they want a snack, six or 12 pieces."

Lee said it took the bakery two days to fulfil the order, which was dispersed to customers across the country at Olympic viewing parties at malls.

She's hoping orders like it will continue to drive customers to the bakery long after the Olympics are over.

"We are often forgotten because North York has a big Koreatown, but this is great because it's more people coming to visit and experience the culture," she said.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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