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From Gastronomy to Community: How the Pandemic Changed Chefs' Lives and Work

21 June, 2022
Kpod dining experience

Photo by: Cohere

Yangban Society is part deli, part restaurant, a celebration of Katianna and John’s childhoods in New York and Chicago respectively. Rather than trying to apply the type of cooking they were doing at the Meadowood to their Korean cooking traditions, Yangban Society is more casual, more flexible based on the experience a guest is looking for, and more in line with how the Hongs live and eat these days.

“I think our interest in doing something a little different started with the fact that we were thinking about starting a family,” Katianna said. “If we're going to be spending time away from her [their daughter], we wanted to be doing something that we feel is important, that we feel proud of.”

For the Hongs, being deeply embedded in their community was a key element of building Yangban Society. The ability to provide good jobs and a place for connection where they lived has been a major driving force in building the business. For Brady Williams, who also made a name for himself at a destination restaurant, community was an important element as he struck out on his own.

Williams became executive chef at Seattle’s Canlis restaurant in 2015, remaining there until early 2021. During his tenure, he won a James Beard award for Best Chef: Northwest and was named one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs. The opportunity to lead such an iconic restaurant, Williams says, taught him a lot about what he wanted in his own business. When he left in February of 2021, he says, he knew he wanted to build something that would connect him to people.


The resulting restaurant - named Tomo after Williams’ grandmother - was in part inspired by the many pivots that Canlis made during the pandemic – things like running a crab shack, a burger takeout spot, and a summer camp-themed experience. More than anything, though, he wanted to build a place that people would return to.

“I really wanted to be in a neighbourhood that I felt connected to, a neighbourhood that I spend time in where I could be a part of the fabric of the community,” Williams said. “I think that was a lesson in the pandemic, that restaurants that remained accessible to their city or neighbourhood did a little bit better, and so that was important to me.”

The food at Kpod, Tomo and Yangban Society may be more casual than what these chefs were cooking in the before times, but it’s no less special. It’s more personal, more deeply connected to the lives of the people cooking it, and therefore more distinctive. And it’s very, very delicious.

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