As LA Kinn closes, chef highlights mental health issues in restaurant industry

After two years, recognition from the Michelin Guide and a rave review from the Los Angeles Times, modern Korean restaurant Kinn is set to close its doors this week, with its chef-owner emphasizing the importance of mental health in the restaurant industry.

“I think our products are often undervalued, we have to compromise,” said Kiyong “Ki” Kim, who announced Kinn’s closure last Friday. “Whether it’s quality of life, finances, hours of sleep, we have to please our customers and please our customers rather than making sure we stay healthy. It adds up.

The Koreatown restaurant is scheduled to close on Saturday. Kim said she lost about 20 pounds in the past few weeks due to stress and anxiety. As a chef, he calls critical praise and customer satisfaction “addicting,” leading to a team of chefs who rarely prioritize each other.

Before opening Kinn, Kim co-founded Korean pop-up Naemo in Los Angeles and worked at Benu in San Francisco and Jungsik and Atomix in New York. The 20-seat Kinn, its first restaurant, is a collaboration with In Hospitality Group — which also operates Koreatown fried chicken shop Chimmelier — and open in November 2021 with a la carte offerings but quickly reformatted into a tasting menu setup.

Its five courses grew to seven and included dishes such as slow-braised crispy octopus, charred kimchi-stuffed Little Gems, peach-glazed bulgogi and burrata salad with tomatoes and perilla, evolving with each season.

Kinn has won praise for its seasonal tasting menu featuring dishes such as a summer bibimbap with seaweed rice. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Earlier this year, the Michelin World Food Guide added Kinn to its California listings as a notable new restaurant choice. “Whether it is preparing the dishes or presenting them, the chef and his team provide you with an exclusive experience,” explains the guide.

Michelin also included Kinn in its guide to the best Korean restaurants in Los Angeles.

In May, LA Times food critic Bill Addison called Kinn “one of the freshest culinary voices in Los Angeles,” described Kim as “masterful” and wondered if the restaurant could be the future of the city’s fine dining.

Even though the restaurant closes, Kinn will still appear at this year’s festival. LA Times 101 List event on December 5. The restaurant was originally supposed to make the list, to be revealed that evening, but Times food critic Bill Addison swapped Kinn for another entry after hearing the news. “In an effort to make the list as current and useful as possible for readers, it will not be included on the list,” Addison said. “We are delighted to welcome him back and honor the great work that the Food Section said he had done.”

“This will be our finale,” Kim said.

Financial and spatial constraints

The idea of ​​offering an ambitious seven-course tasting menu at an affordable price — $95 per person — also proved difficult for the team, who didn’t always cross the necessary sales threshold on a given night. Kim noted that his concerns about the restaurant’s future began in April, due to inconsistent seating and compromises the chef said he had to make given the restaurant’s financial and spatial constraints.

As the months passed, Kim said his mental health deteriorated, especially after alerting staff last month of the impending end.

Learn more: Is this Koreatown newcomer the future of fine dining in Los Angeles?

Professional chefs regularly appear on lists of the most stressful jobs, including earning the top spot from staffing firm Zippia earlier this year due to their long hours, low job security and staff management in addition to the kitchen. According to a recent survey According to culinary experience site Cozymeal, 70% of chefs participating in the survey had experienced anxiety while working in a restaurant, while many also suffered from sleep disorders, depression and substance abuse.

There are several nonprofit and other support organizations to help those in the service industry struggle with depression and addiction, such as Restaurant After Hours, Focus on Health, A Balanced Glass, and Healthy Hospo.

“Unfortunately, we had to close Kinn due to his (Kim’s) health issue,” Dustin Dong Hyuk Lee, a partner at In Hospitality Group, told the Times in an email. “It’s very sad, but I’m sure he will come back stronger than ever!”

The outpouring of support has come as a shock to the team since last Friday’s announcement, with bookings now fully booked for the week, the chief said.

“We are very, very grateful,” Kim said. “We’ve already seen a lot of familiar faces after our announcement, and everyone is reaching out. I didn’t know there were so many people who cared about us. It was very moving.

Charcoal-grilled mackerel with Kinn's stir-fried kimichi.

Charcoal-grilled mackerel with Kinn’s stir-fried kimichi. (Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Closing the restaurant helped Kim find new camaraderie in other chefs who demonstrated empathy, having closed restaurants themselves, and said the experience helped him learn to be more empathetic to his turn.

“I have a lot of hope now and I’m trying to be as strong as possible mentally,” he said.

Kim hopes to stay in Los Angeles after Kinn closes, ideally cooking elsewhere before opening her own restaurant again one day.

“What I really want to do is focus on the present moment, but I’m very excited for the future. I feel like what the future holds is very bright – and it’s even brighter than Kinn’s heyday.

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This story was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

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