417 Magazine: What sets Kuma apart from your other two restaurants, OMO Japanese Soul Food and MaMa’s Korean Grill, and others in Springfield?
Jay Jung: A lot of my cousins in California, they’re all doing a poke shop. They knew I was doing a restaurant, and they said you should do this because it’s a trend right now and you don’t want to be behind. I was watching [poke restaurants across the state] for a couple of months to make sure they were working, and I was like “If they are working there, then why not in Springfield?” I always say Springfield local people are experts on food because there are so many restaurants in town.
417: How long have you been in the food industry?
J. J.: I’ve been in the food industry eight years. My mom was a chef ever since I was little, and my uncle, he’s a very famous chef in South Korea. I have more family in the restaurant business on my mom’s side. I grew up [in the] restaurant industry, and I came to the U.S. when I was 12. My uncle was a pastor and he invited my whole family to the U.S. At the church, about 90 percent of the church members are in the restaurant industry. I pretty much grew up with the restaurant. Sunday was like a feast because everybody cooked their own dish.
417: Do you have any of your childhood recipes on the menu?
J.J.: Because my parents were so busy when I was a little boy, I pretty much cooked everything by myself growing up. I have a little sister nine years younger, so I had to feed her. I never thought I would do a restaurant, but I grew up that way, and it kind of led me on this path. All our chefs always, every night, make a new dish—there’s a lot of bad dishes, too. We try to eat something new every day. We have a lot of staff that’s passionate about cooking and want to be very good chefs, so they inspire me a lot.
417: What’s one thing readers should know about your Kuma?
J.J.: We’re not rich people, and I’ve been broke so many times. We’re trying to keep our margin very low and trying to make as good of food as possible—that’s our goal. We’re always studying. We’ll try something new. If customers give us an idea of what we should do, we love to try everything, too.