Restaurateur Munsok So's hospitality career started with college parties and a struggling hotel bar

Restaurateur Munsok So's hospitality career started with college parties and a struggling hotel bar

Munsok So and his family moved from Korea to the U.S. in 1980.

He was born in O'Fallon and attended public schools before moving to St. Louis. After graduating, he took over a Collinsville bar instead of attending medical school.

It was his first venture into hospitality and he's never looked back.

So revealed that he had saved some money from his initial venture. This helped him launch the Drunken Fish Sushi restaurant in 2003. He then launched So Hospitality Group which includes So's Drunken fish and Korean Fusion chain Kimchi Guys restaurants, as well as a catering company and an event company. A new restaurant concept will be launched soon.

So Hospitality Group had around 250 employees before the pandemic. The number of employees dropped to 150 during the pandemic, but has now rebounded to 220.

So stated that takeaway sales have remained high post-Covid. Before the pandemic, take-out orders made up about 5%, but now they make up between 10% and 13% of his business, So said.

Sales are similar, if they're not slightly higher, to levels before the pandemic. He said So Hospitality Group had revenue between $10 and $11 millions last year, and that the company was on track to have between $11 and $12 million in revenue this year. He said that projections for his restaurants in Edwardsville are not included.

What was the first business you started? In college, me and my friends always threw parties. Back in the day we were collecting cover fees, throwing sick parties, and doing very well for ourselves. I met a Collinsville hotel lounge owner whose bar wasn't doing so well. I talked to the owner and, even though I knew very little about business, I thought it would be a good idea to try and use her liquor license to get people to come into the bar and share the cost of the cover fee.

She wanted out, so we bought the business at a very low price. I was able to get my bar experience from these college students who were broke and had been throwing parties. Bar business is about hustle. It's all about marketing and getting people in the door. It became a cash cow. We were kids, and we had a few busy nights a week in a business that only accepted cash. This allowed me to start saving money so I could open Drunken Fish.

What does hospitality mean for you? What does hospitality mean to you? It's about taking care of those around you. This includes the people I work with every day, both in the office and at home. It's not just about the paying customers. If you create a welcoming atmosphere, where people feel comfortable being near you and are happy with the interactions you have, this will trickle down to your customers. We make sure to take care of those who are right next to us. That is, to me, the definition of hospitality.

What are your plans? We have three distinct brands. The first brand, 612North Events Space + Catering, is a catering company that specializes in events such as weddings and corporate functions. Kimchi Guys is a Korean fried-chicken restaurant. It is fast casual, and it has unique Korean flavors. Drunken Fish, on the other hand, is a Japanese brand of sushi with some modernized, fusion-style flavors. Miss Java will be our next concept, a fast casual food and coffee concept. This should be available in spring 2024.

Two new Drunken Fish locations and two new Kimchi Guys stores will be opening in Edwardsville, at Trace on the Parkway, in the next six to eight week. I am also expanding into real estate. For example, I will own the building in Edwardsville and be the only one who does.