In this ongoing column, The Digest, Entrepreneur.com News Director Stephen J. Bronner speaks with food entrepreneurs and executives to see what it took to get their products into the mouths of customers.
Kheedim Oh just wanted some tasty, homemade kimchi. What he eventually got was his own kimchi product line in stores across the U.S, including select Whole Foods and Fairway locations, and customers in all 50 states and as far as the U.K. buying it online.
“When I started this, I had no intention of making this a business,” Oh says. “It was for fun. It just kept naturally growing.”
In 2008, Oh was working as a DJ and living in New York City. As he tells his story, he just wanted a taste of home — his parents immigrated from South Korea — and none of the kimchi available in stores would satisfy. So he took the Chinatown bus to his parents’ home in Washington, D.C.
“I asked my mom to teach me how to make it,” he says. But “when you make a batch of kimchi at home you make a 50-pound box.”
Back in New York, Oh pushed the load of kimchi in a red cooler on a skateboard to his apartment, because he couldn’t afford a cab. During the trek, he stopped to get some meat and the butcher offered some unsolicited advice.
“He said to me, ‘You can eat that with kimchi and rice and you’ll eat like a king,'” Oh remembers. “And I’m like, ‘What do you know about kimchi?'”
Oh offered him some kimchi to try, and the butcher was impressed. Oh lied and told him he already had a business and signed up the butcher as his first customer.
“I had to come up with a name, incorporate, figure out packaging and insurance,” Oh says. From then on, he made cold calls to other shops to see if they would carry his homemade fermented cabbage, called Mama O’s after his mother.
“So I would make it out of my kitchen and basically torture my neighbors for a couple of days at a time,” he says.
Oh moved from space to space, including his friend’s restaurant in New Jersey to a bodega in Queens Oh bought and operated. After landing his product in Whole Foods, he sold the bodega and moved into his current space in a Brooklyn building formerly occupied by Pfizer. His goal is to have his products sold nationwide in three years.
Click through the slideshow to see Mama O’s ingredients for success.