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Kimchi Box: East Lansing's first fast Casual Korean restaurant

January 17, 2023
Kimchi Box on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.
Kimchi Box on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. —
Photo by Anna Ryan | The State News

East Lansing is no stranger to fast food restaurants. From McDonald’s to Cottage Inn, residents are covered when it comes to cheeseburgers, fries and pizza. Yet there seems to be a lack of diversity within fast food, specifically traditional Asian food.

Min Gyu Kim, a Michigan State University alumnus, noticed the absence of Asian food and took it upon himself to create his own fast, casual Korean restaurant: Kimchi Box. After opening six successful locations, Kim decided to go back to his MSU roots and open another on East Lansing’s Grand River. 

After graduating in 2017 with a degree in Supply Chain Management, Kim took up consulting in Chicago, which he said gave him more insight into the world of business. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kim quit his job and moved back to Michigan with the idea to begin his own business venture.

While other restaurants and businesses in East Lansing were closing, Kim saw an opportunity to take over one of the absent leases with Korean fast and casual on his mind.

“I thought that there was a necessity for that type of food,” Kim said. “Whenever I go to places, there’s a lack of traditional Asian foods.”

For much of his life, Kim grew up working in restaurants beside his mother, who he deems a very good cook. When deciding to open his own restaurant, he collaborated with his mom and aunts, utilizing their knowledge of traditional Korean cuisine and taking a fast, casual spin on it.

“If you go to traditional Korean restaurants, they have a very extensive menu,” Kim said. “It’s kind of hard to understand so people end up ordering just one or two items.”

Kimchi Box’s Korean fusion creates a more accessible menu for its mainstream audience, offering chicken sandwiches, tacos, bento bowls and more.  

Brandon Ewert, an engineer for MSU's Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, said he was pleasantly surprised when he walked into Kimchi Box. 

“I was just walking by randomly one day and I had no idea that this place had been taken over by new owners,” Ewert said. “I was hungry. I decided to stop in.”

Ewert said he felt the menu offered variety while still providing fresh food.  

“I would definitely recommend the tacos, but I’m really excited to try their chicken. That seems to be their bread and butter.”

Kimchi Box manager Marino Allen described their fan favorite popcorn chicken saying half is coated in their Queen Sassy sauce, a version of sweet and spicy sauce, while the other half is coated in soy garlic sauce. Topped with green onions and sesame, Allen says the chicken is the perfect dish to go with a side of their Kimchi fries.

“It’s fries covered in mozzarella cheese, sour cream, spicy mayo, kimchi, topped with onions,” Allen said, adding the fries are a fan favorite as well.

Once settled in East Lansing, Kim hopes to expand even further. 

“I would like to do Ann Arbor, Detroit, Grand Rapids. Maybe out of the state,” Kim said when expanding on his ambitions.

Kimchi Box is located at 527 Grand River Ave.

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