Originally an upscale Asian fusion restaurant with high–end cocktails, Gentle Perch has come a long way from its older days. It was during the beginning of the ongoing pandemic that owners Paul Lee and Connie Choi — fiancés and business partners — began to test their new menu, which made its debut on Michelin’s bib gourmand list last month.
“Everything was closed, no one was coming in and we had all this food. I went hungry a lot growing up so I thought, how can we help people,” Lee said. Aware that a lot of their customers before the pandemic had become front line workers, Lee began to send meals to local hospitals that were being swamped by the pandemic and soon, Lee claims, feedback from nurses and doctors brought their menu to life.
Gentle Perch, located in the heart of East Williamsburg serves Korean-slash-Southern American BBQ and boasts with an extensive Soju list. Think bulgogi brisket bibim bowls ($14), korean fried chicken sandwiches ($10), mac n’ cheese topped with grilled kimchi ($6). They also have vegan options like BBQ eggplant ($10) and bibim bowls filled with oyster mushrooms ($12). “I think about Italian food and French food compared to Korean food and I realize, Korean food provides so much more than its price,” Lee said about how he thinks about pricing the menu.
The child of South Korean immigrants and former artist, Lee says he spent most of his life living paycheck to paycheck in order to take care of his family. It wasn’t until his late 20s, did he think about what truly brought him joy.
“Growing up, I can’t remember a day where my mom didn’t cook”, said Lee, who’s Korean name is Kangsan. “My dad had notebooks full of his favorite restaurants. We were a family of foodies.”
Lee says he didn’t grow up with much and spent a lot of his life finding ways to stretch a dollar. When he was studying fine arts at FIT, he says his budget for food, most weeks, was $3-$5 but, much to his surprise, he managed to make it work. “I thought I was going to be an artist,” he added. It wasn’t too long after that Lee met his fiancé and business partner, Connie Choi.
“I was in the fashion industry for eight years by now and still something was missing,” Lee said, “ “I remember feeling super proud to show American’s Korean BBQ because it’s not what you would normally expect when you hear the word BBQ.”
It was then the duo decided that their new venture would highlight their shared culture. Choi had a background in the catering industry, and he knew food well. The trouble was, Lee thought Korean food could be intimidating. So, he set out to invent ways he could make his food more inviting to Americans.
But it’s impossible to feel intimated or upset around good food and even more impossible when you’re eating inside Gentle Perch’s pink, blue and white color scheme, where its gentle touches of greenery and, of course, the neon sign, will transport you to the Korean beach city of Busan and make you forget you’re in Brooklyn.
Gentle Perch is located at 112 Graham Avenue and is open from Monday to Thursday, from 12pm – 9pm and Friday to Saturday, from 12pm – 10pm. But also check their website or Instagram for any sudden changes.
All images: Tiffany Cordero
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