Jimmy Han Talks Beer Belly, Koreatown, and Philly Cheese

When I first heard that the old Chinese restaurant behind I Love Boba was going to become a craft beer bar, I have to admit, I didn’t get it.

When the lavish Rosen Microbrewery closed it’s doors years earlier, the consensus was Koreans (at least in Koreatown) just don’t get craft beer. Here, it’s all about soju, lite beer, and hard liquor. Looking for a dark chocolate stout? Hollywood, Downtown, and Silver Lake are just minutes away.

This of course just confirms how little I know about anything. Beer Belly has gone on to enjoy enormous success, become the darling of LA food critics and was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, one of Food Network’s most popular shows.

So what’s Beer Belly’s secret? Oink LA interviews owner/operator Jimmy Han on the success of Beer Belly, Koreatown and what’s next.

How do your patrons and employees react to you being in K-Town?

They love it. Koreatown has changed so much since I was younger and a lot of it has to do with the foodie movement. You have food critics like Jonathan Gold who loves writing about all these hole in the wall Korean places. A lot of people come to Koreatown to go on an adventure and try new things. That’s what Beer Belly’s about.

Of course we’re not doing Korean fusion, there’s enough places to go for that. But people are looking for something new. They’re young professionals who don’t want to pay $60 for a bottle of wine. They want good beer made with good ingredients with some interesting food all at a reasonable price. Before people go on their K-Town KBBQ crawl, Noraebang or out drinking, they can stop by Beer Belly and have a bite to eat and a good beer.

Despite being in the heart of Koreatown, your demographic is very diverse. Was that planned or did it just happen?

It just happened. I never targeted any specific demographic when I opened up, the only demographic I wanted to target was open minded people who were willing to try new interesting brews and food. You can love or hate it, but you gotta give us a chance.

The whole reason for Beer Belly and what it became is working with creative individuals. An architect can draw anything crazy but if the contractor can’t build it correctly, it goes to crap. The artist, Yoshi (Mr. 44) who painted the amazing murals you see everywhere is a friend from high school and the first person I reached out to. But even the chef and the beer brewers, it’s all about creativity. It’s all about trying to do something new. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but we’re all here to kinda have this creative outlet and try new things.

When did you decide you wanted to open a craft beer bar?

I think I’ve always wanted to open my own drinking place but about five years ago, I really started getting into craft beer. I began going to a lot of beer events and all these local breweries that were popping up everywhere. I started meeting the people behind the beer and just started getting into the culture. And it is a culture, you see the same people at the breweries, at the events, and they’re so down to earth. Everyone’s very friendly, open, talking about beer, sports, politics, whatever, it doesn’t matter. Some are doctors, some are in between jobs, but everyone’s there to have some beer and just have a good time. And that’s when I realized that I wanted this type of environment, a community pub atmosphere that’s centered around craft beer.