Seattle Restored revives Seattle neighborhoods with creativity and commerce! They work with our local artists and entrepreneurs to reinvigorate our city by activating empty storefronts. These pop-up and art installation activations benefit neighborhoods, small businesses, artists and property owners by creating vibrant and engaging streetscapes that encourage the public to visit downtown Seattle and support local businesses and artists – particularly Black, Indigenous, and other entrepreneurs and artists of color.
Seattle, we’re excited to introduce you to Youn Chung! (📸: Growing Boy Media)
Tell us about your business focus.
I co-own a business called Hyphen Asian Food and Culture, which is an Asian specialty foods and lifestyle store located in Belltown. We carry a carefully curated selection of artisanal and unique Asian and Asian American staple ingredients. We try our best to stock brands that celebrate our food traditions of the past and continue the evolution of our food into the present and beyond. Complementing our selection of foods, we also offer a collection of unique lifestyle goods and educational tasting experiences. I started the business with my husband, Toru Mino, and my neighbors Takeshi Kunimune and Mary Kunimune. We created Hyphen not just because of our love of food, but because we are passionate about connecting with our community and sharing knowledge about Asian American food and culture.
What projects are you working on, and how can our readers help you with it?
For a variety of reasons, we are currently unable to carry perishable goods in our store on a regular basis. However, food items such as miso, kimchi, tofu, and prepared foods such as bentos and frozen dumplings have always been a part of our larger vision for the business. As a way to start piloting these kinds of products, we are working on organizing an Asian Farmer’s Market where we can begin to offer perishable food products to our customers. One aspect of this project that I’m particularly excited about is the prospect of bringing local food producers in direct contact with our customers. Producers can meet the faces and learn the names of the people they literally nourish and customers can hear about the passions and livelihoods that they support. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but that feels like a powerful and inspiring interaction. As we get to work on this project, we’d love to hear about any local Asian artisans and food producers that may be a great fit for this kind of event.
What’s the most rewarding part of owning your business pursuits?
Food of any kind gives me a lot of joy, but in all honesty, my relationship with Asian food can get complicated. I draw a lot of comfort and nostalgia from Asian food, but at the same time, my feelings can also be fraught with the confusion and insecurities I’ve had about my identity. This was why it was important that Hyphen be a safe and approachable place where anyone can explore and learn about Asian food and culture. I really wanted to create a place where we could highlight and validate the value of Asian cuisine without alienation or intimidation. Since opening the store, any time we’ve been able to engage a customer or a producer in this way, it’s been really gratifying, joyful, and almost therapeutic!
What are you looking forward to this year?
I’m very curious to see where our business lands by the end of this year. This whole endeavor has been a huge experiment for us. We had an exciting idea, but our lack of experience in retail and food prevented us from feeling confident. Thankfully, Seattle Restored was a wonderful opportunity to test our concept in a flexible and lightweight way as a pop-up. Currently, we have until the end of May to continue gathering data, hone our concept and build the business into viability. The dream has always been to establish a lasting hub for Asian-American food and culture. In the next few months, it will be interesting to see how we connect the dots from where we are now to where we hope to be.
A look at Youn Chung’s space. (📸: Growing Boy Media)
What brings you most alive about working or living in Seattle?
There is so much natural beauty within and around the city of Seattle that I always found to be very restorative and energizing. I’m always happy to take a road trip, but I also love that I don’t have to drive hours outside of the city in order to get a glimpse of stunning scenery. More often than not, you’re probably only a few minutes away from a mountainous skyline or a patch of mossy rainforest. Commuting through traffic is never fun, but where else is it set against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful mountains in the world?
I also really appreciate the people of Seattle. I’ve lived in many different places throughout my life and in my experience, Seattlites have been some of the most gentle, friendly, and earnest people I’ve ever met. That said, there is also a level of civic engagement and determination here that I’ve never really experienced in any other place I’ve lived. It’s all very inspiring!
If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?
Honestly, I feel like I’ve figured out so little about my work or life in general that I don’t think I’m in any position to give advice to anyone, particularly anyone I haven’t met. But I will say that I’m really hopeful that the locals of our city will continue to proactively engage with the small businesses and community organizations that are working hard to help our city not only recover from the aftermath of COVID but to really thrive and prosper.
What’s your favorite Seattle Restored pop-up or art installation and why?
I’m very excited about Enso, one of our new Seattle Restored neighbors in Belltown! I love looking at antiques and figuring out what it says about a time or place that I’ve never experienced. As someone who loves working with their hands, I also have a deep appreciation for handicrafts that require such a high level of both discipline and creativity.
Read more about Hyphen and check out details about their Seattle Restored pop-up on the Seattle Restored blog.