April 13, 2024
Music-tae Kim and 17 of his associates from church chattered boisterously, some fueled by soju, with the remnants of their dinner — black bean noodles and spicy seafood noodle soup — unfold out in entrance of them.

For dessert, they handed round slices of Korean pear they’d introduced from dwelling.

This was the group’s final meal on the Dragon, a Korean-style Chinese language restaurant in Koreatown. They’ve gathered there twice a month for twenty years.

The Brown household eats dinner on one of many final days of enterprise on the Dragon on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Instances)

The Dragon is closing on Sunday after greater than 40 years of serving dishes like jajangmyeon (the aforementioned black bean noodles), jjamppong (the seafood soup) and tangsuyuk (candy and bitter pork) to Korean People who converge from round Southern California.

With its non-public rooms and expansive banquet areas, the Dragon has hosted numerous first birthday events, or doljanchi, and eightieth birthdays, or palsun.

Moreover the common gatherings along with his associates from St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church, Kim has loved many household meals and birthdays on the Dragon, which is his “dangol,” or go-to restaurant. A resident of Koreatown, Kim immigrated to the U.S. in 1978 and operated a stitching manufacturing unit for 35 years.

“It’s such a pity,” stated Kim, 74. “We collect right here twice a month, and now we have to discover one other place, however there isn’t any place prefer it.”

Members of the St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church smile and chortle whereas ending their dinner on the Dragon on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Instances)

Deok-jeong Wang, who based the restaurant and owns the property, plans to show it into mixed-used inexpensive housing. However he stated the driving pressure behind his determination isn’t revenue. The standard of the meals is declining, he stated, as a result of it’s exhausting to recruit cooks expert in Korean-Chinese language delicacies, which originated with Chinese language immigrants in South Korea and places a Korean twist on northern Chinese language dishes.

For instance, Chinese language zhajiangmian is normally plainer than Korean-Chinese language jajangmyeon, which is coated in a thick sauce of fermented black beans.

“As a way to prepare dinner these very conventional dishes, you want somebody who has these particular abilities, however there aren’t that lots of these cooks anymore,” stated Wang. “Plenty of cooks immigrated from Korea at the start, however era after era, younger folks aren’t doing it anymore.”

Like many who work in Korean-Chinese language eating places, Wang is of Chinese language heritage and grew up in South Korea.

After arriving within the U.S. in 1971, Wang took any job he might discover — bus boy, grocery deliverer, sous chef. In 1974, he opened a Korean-style Chinese language restaurant that grew to become the Dragon in 1980.

A man, seen in closeup, with a restaurant out of focus behind him

The Dragon supervisor Wei Chou takes orders on one of many final days on the restaurant.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Instances)

Wang bought the restaurant to In-seung Choi in 2016 whereas retaining possession of the property on South Vermont Avenue north of Olympic Boulevard.

Lately, density bonuses and different incentives have led to a surge in inexpensive housing improvement in Koreatown, one of many densest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

Building on the six-story, 90-unit constructing that can exchange the Dragon is scheduled to start in March, based on Choi.

Choi stated he as soon as owned 4 Korean-Chinese language eating places however bought them after grappling with the chef scarcity.

Home of Pleasure Chinese language Restaurant in Glendale, which he bought in 2021, might get by with Latino cooks educated to prepare dinner the delicacies, as a result of about half the purchasers aren’t Korean, stated Choi, who owns greater than 10 eating places within the L.A. space.

The Dragon additionally has its share of non-Korean clients, however Choi stated that most of the Koreans “are of the older era who’re extra choosy and delicate to modifications within the meals.”

Youthful cooks from South Korea don’t wish to transfer to L.A. due to the excessive value of dwelling and comparatively low salaries, Choi added, which can be a difficulty for Korean eating places serving conventional Korean meals.

“The primary chef, who has labored on the Dragon for over 30 years, is now over 70 years previous, and it has been over a yr since he stated his wrists have been in ache,” Choi stated. “We knew it was about time to shut store.”

A hand holds up a green glass beverage bottle in a dining room filled with people at round tables.

Members of the St. Agnes Korean Catholic Church have dinner as one exhibits his Jinro Chamisul soju bottle on the Dragon.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Instances)

Hobin Chang, who owns the Korean-Chinese language restaurant Younger King in Koreatown, stated he has comparable recruiting points.

“It’s troublesome, however we do handle to seek out, for instance, some folks from Hong Kong and China who reside in L.A., and we practice them,” Chang stated.

The Dragon initially was slated to shut final June however stayed open largely to maintain the workers of about 20 employed, Choi stated.

Choi stated he feels horrible about closing the restaurant and leaving the employees with out jobs.

“I personally have so many reminiscences at this restaurant,” he stated. “That is the place my mother and father and my spouse’s mother and father formally met earlier than we acquired married in 2001.”

The workers hoped the restaurant would transfer to a different location, however Choi stated a big house appropriate for conventional Korean celebrations can be prohibitively costly.

“With out the massive measurement and particular areas to host occasions, it wouldn’t be the Dragon anymore,” Choi stated. “It will simply be one other Chinese language restaurant. We might discover any small place to proceed the restaurant, however it might lose its that means.”

Peter Nam, 68, has been coming to the Dragon since he arrived in L.A. from South Korea in 1982. Each second Saturday of the month, he dines there with a bunch of about 10 associates.

“It’s a really unhappy feeling, as a result of I’ve been coming right here for over 40 years,” Nam stated as he completed off a plate of candy and spicy shrimp throughout his closing dinner on the Dragon. “We’ve been speaking about what the following restaurant can be the place we are able to all collect, however we’re not so certain.”

Because the St. Agnes church group wound down their dinner, Joanne Lee handed round a second spherical of freshly reduce Korean pear, pushing apart half-finished plates of jajangmyeon and seafood soup.

“Now we have to seek out one other place for our gatherings, nevertheless it’s exhausting to discover a place that fits a big group and has pretty much as good service because the Dragon,” stated Lee, 70. “They even allow us to deliver our personal dessert and alcohol into the restaurant as a result of we’re so aware of the workers.”

Three women seated at a restaurant table laden with food

Giant teams got here recurrently to the Dragon to dine collectively.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Instances)

In Korean, aswiwo means disappointment, pity and disappointment multi functional — an apt description for a way clients felt throughout the Dragon’s closing days.

“Aswiwo, aswiwo,” Lee and several other associates stated, all shaking their heads.