Red Chili celebrates ten years of serving up savory Korean cuisine

Published 8:11 am Thursday, October 20, 2016

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips  The Red Chili in downtown Elizabethton is celebrating 10 years of serving the best in Korean cuisine to old and new customers alike. Owner Minae Ward (pictured on right) and Nicole Williams work hard to make sure their customer's have a pleasant dining experience.

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips
The Red Chili in downtown Elizabethton is celebrating 10 years of serving the best in Korean cuisine to old and new customers alike. Owner Minae Ward (pictured on right) and Nicole Williams work hard to make sure their customer’s have a pleasant dining experience.

Tucked away in a cozy, little street-side spot in downtown Elizabethton, the Red Chili opened with little fanfare in October of 2006, but since that time it has grown quite a following with its charming Korean cuisine.

Located at 435 East Elk Avenue, Red Chili is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the same great taste as it did when it first opened the doors.

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“When I opened, I didn’t have any advertising about my business, but I have had repeat customers that keep coming back over the years,” said the restaurant’s owner Minae Ward. “I had a hard time getting started for a couple of months when I first opened, but since then I have increased.

“Last year I didn’t see much of an increase due to the economy, but so far this year it has been pretty good,” added Ward. “I am very thankful for all the business that we have. People that started when I opened are bringing other people to eat.”

The restaurant was something that just came about according to Ward who admittedly had no experience in the restaurant business when it first opened.

She is a native of Korea and arrived in Elizabethton via San Diego, CA after her husband, Roger, finished Chiropractic school.

A friend told them about the small building that was for sale and the rest is history.

“When I first opened up, I didn’t have a plan for the restaurant because I didn’t have any experience,” said Ward. “Brian Hicks at the Bonnie Kate told me this place was for sale, and I came here even though it was small. I thought I would give it a try.”

Ward said that having a small restaurant in a location like Elizabethton is an engaging experience as it allows great interaction between the owner and the customer.

“People are so nice and generous here,” Ward said. “Being a small restaurant I know everyone. We have five and ten-year customers who come in here. Most people come back because of the taste of the food. My food is really good and so healthy.”

Serving entrees such as Be-bim-bob, Teriyaki Chicken Soba, Spicy Pork, and Red Chicken, the customer’s palate will always be treated to an enjoyable dining experience.

Ward was asked if there was a customer favorite.

“The Red Chicken seems to be the customer favorite right now,” added Ward. “Everyone really seems to love it. All of the food, however, is very good.”

To look at the size of the facility, one wouldn’t imagine it would take a great amount of work to keep the restaurant going. However, in talking with Ward, there is more than enough work that goes into the daily operation, and it is done with a minimum amount of laborers.

“You wouldn’t imagine how much work actually goes into this little place,” stated Ward. “There is one girl and myself. I could hire more people, but I don’t want to.

“It is a little place and I want my workers to make good money,” added Ward. “My philosophy is different than many others—you can work harder and make more money.”

Ward doesn’t have any specialized training in the culinary arts. What she does have is a strong palate that allows her to taste the food and then make it without any direction.

“You have to be born with it—you never learn to cook, you have to be born with it,” stated Ward. “My momma was a good cook. I think I got the taste of cooking from her. My mom had a large restaurant when I was little. Most food I taste, I can make it.”

Although the business has seen its fair amount of success in the last ten years, just like other businesses there have been many obstacles and challenges in being a small business owner.

One of the greatest challenges for Ward has been the increased cost of buying the ingredients and products to prepare her dishes with.

But, according to Ward, that hasn’t changed the amount of the portion she serves her customers.

“My food is the same portion now as it was ten years ago,” Ward said. “Everything is expensive now. Sometimes I have to raise the price a dollar or two because of the increase in the price of goods.

“I don’t want to decrease my portion. I don’t feel good about it. I use the best ingredients because that is where the quality of the food comes from,” Ward continued. “For example, I use a lot of sesame oil here, and at one time it was $7.50 for little container, and now it is $20.00. I use one every day.

“That is the challenge I have. I give my customer a really good portion. Four and five-star restaurants don’t give the portions that I do.”

The Red Chili is opened Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Friday, dining hours are from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.