Korean restaurants in New Jersey reel as new coronavirus infections rise and indoor dining stalled

July 7, 2020 Center for Cooperative Media

By Jun Hyong Sook, K-Radio 1660 AM

Editor’s note: This is the English translation of the original story, which was first published in Korean for K-Radio 1660 AM. This version has been updated and edited, with permission from the author(s) and publication(s), for length and clarity.

NEW JERSEY — Korean restaurants are designed to be indoors. Known for their meat barbecues, or gogigui (meat roast), these restaurants offer a unique experience where diners gather around a gas or charcoal grill in the middle of the table to cook and eat together.

But as new COVID-19 infections start to rise again in various parts of the country, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy repeatedly defended his last-minute decision on June 30 to indefinitely postpone the reopening of indoor dining in the state, Korean restaurant owners are feeling another blow to their businesses.

Now that it may take longer for New Jersey to shift from Stage 2 to 3 of its gradual reopening plan, which would allow indoor dining, Korean restaurant owners are scrambling to figure out how to adapt to these volatile indoor reopening rules. 

Some Korean restaurant owners have expressed frustration after spending thousands of dollars to prepare for indoor dining for the July 4th weekend, only to have it pulled before it was set to begin. And it has been very difficult for many of them to pay their rental fee since March, considering they still could not fully operate or they have to operate in such a limited seating condition.

Of the 30 Korean restaurants in Palisades Park, NJ, only five of them are doing outdoor seating, according to Sung-gon Lee, vice president of the Korean American Association of New Jersey, and the rest of the Korean restaurants rely solely on takeouts.

About 50 percent of all Korean restaurants in the area said they are experiencing the impact of the state’s sudden change in indoor dining policy.

A manager for one of the famous Korean barbecue restaurants in Palisades Park said that even with outdoor seating, it only attracts a few customers due to extreme weather conditions.

In Leonia and Ridgefield, NJ, Korean restaurants in the area are also facing hardships, and it compounds the problem when even Koreans are not comfortable dining inside the restaurants during this pandemic.

“There are also various menus that are not available for outdoor seating due to the nature of Korean barbecue restaurants,” added Lee. “Korean restaurant owners are anxiously waiting for the time to flatten the curve so that indoor seating will soon be allowed.”

This translation was provided by Jongwon Lee in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, and is supported by funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The original story was written in Korean for K-Radio 1660 AM and is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit the project page

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