Recent venture of Binghamton alumnus leads to New York-style chicken over rice, reimagined in the University MarketPlace
After a night out during his senior year, Sung Kim cooked his best version of the popular street food chicken-over-rice for himself and his friends. It was so good, he got about 40 of his friends to come over on the weekends and pay him to make it.
“It was basically New York City-style chicken-over-rice in Binghamton, which wasn’t really available at the time,” said Kim ’14, the founder of Chick-N-Bap, an on-campus eatery that sells chicken seasoned with Middle Eastern spices or marinated with Korean flavors along with gyro meat. Each dish served with rice, pita, iceberg lettuce and different sauces.
Bap translates to “rice” or “meal” in Korean. “It’s essentially a play the words chicken-over-rice,” Kim said.
He created a business proposal for the startup and pitched it to President Harvey Stenger, Vice President of Student Affairs Brian Rose and Director of Auxiliary Services Peter Napolitano.
“They liked the idea and were willing to bring it to campus,” Kim said. “The college market is strong because people come from so many different backgrounds and are usually looking for food that reminds them of home.”
Kim then pulled in his partner, Christian Ko, a senior majoring in economics in the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, and they piloted their proposal by selling plates out of the Hinman Night Owl. Kim, who majored in business administration with concentrations in leadership/consulting and marketing, said Sodexo initially thought 50 plates in a weekend would have been a pilot success.
They sold more than 600 platters in two days.
Chick-N-Bap continued to serve at Hinman Nite Owl until spring 2015, when Sodexo approached Kim about operating out of Wholly Habaneros in the University Marketplace. At that point Kim was running the business and working full time in New York City at Capco, a financial services and technology consulting firm. Ko, a full-time student, was overseeing the day-to-day operations and team of eight employees in Binghamton.
“I was fortunate to have a corporate, consulting job right out of college, which taught me a lot about the subtleties of professionalism, hard skillsets needed to execute projects and the articulation of an idea to the broader audience” Kim said.
After nearly three years of successful sales and operations, Sodexo wanted to make Chick-N-Bap a permanent dining staple on campus. “I knew I had to quit my full-time job in order to make this work,” Kim said. In addition to its permanent place in the University Marketplace, Chick-N-Bap added a second location on campus in the College-in-the-Woods Night Owl in February.
Kim cites two things that have helped Chick-N-Bap succeed: its white sauce and its good workers who are able to adapt quickly to changes while maintaining a fun work culture. “A successful business starts with quality content, but the way a business is maintained and operated as a living organization is just as important.”
As manager and owner, Kim knows that he needs to listen to his employees just as much as he listens to his customers. “My team and I try to have one-on-ones or brainstorm sessions to discuss what’s working and what’s not at Chick-N-Bap. These conversations are a huge part of the reason we continue to improve and try out new menu items.”
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be really honest with myself and the business. I’m a naturally stubborn person, but after a self-audit, I was able to use that characteristic to advance my goals,” he said. “I had a very small crowd of supporters in the beginning. When people don’t believe in me, I redirect it and use that as momentum.”
At 23, Kim believes that he is at the beginning of his entrepreneurial timeline, and is excited for what’s to come.
“Everyone talks about the entrepreneurial idea and the eventual success story — there’s not a lot of talk about what goes on in between. There’s been a lot of hard work this past three years and it has been a rewarding experience,” he said. “But I wouldn’t say I’m successful — yet. Food and beverage has always been my passion, and I plan on continuing to learn more about the industry to one day become successful.”