If you follow us on instagram, you already know we are HUGE fans of chef Patrice Cunningham, the chef and owner of Tae-Gu Kimchi. Born and raised in DC, this bonafide badass is the founder of Cooking with Patrice LLC, a business focused on sharing her culinary passion and heritage for Korean-American cuisine.
In 2019, she took a leap of faith and began her entrepreneurship journey with starting her own catering business. During this time, she curated a menu for the first Korean BBQ in DC (Gogi Yogi), hosted several dinner parties and pop up experiences through Airbnb Experiences, and was a Chef on Try Hungry’s catering platform.
When the pandemic devastated the world, she took the opportunity to focus on her dream goal of selling her mother’s kimchi recipe.
Prior to Tae-Gu Kimchi, were you in the industry?
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, I bartended and served at a few restaurants and bars in DC and Miami respectively. That is the time I truly fell in love with the industry.
After completing my MBA in 2014, I decided that I wanted to pursue being a restauranteur and so I started to manage restaurants to gain experience before owning my own.
My first management position was with Nando’s Peri Peri as Assistant GM for 2 years. I moved on to work with an independent restaurant group for another year as General Manager until ultimately becoming the General Manager of Redrocks Neapolitan Bistro in the H Street Corridor Neighborhood of NE DC for 5 years. My time spent with Redrocks was a defining chapter in my life that I am forever grateful for.
What inspired you to start your own business?
Both my parents are business owners so I saw growing up what entrepreneurship looked like. Even though it looked like a lot of work and was riskier than a nine to five job, I knew that it was in my blood.
My parents of course wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer but I could not ignore the entrepreneur inside of me, which is why I ditched medical school to get a degree in business.
After spending over 10 years in the restaurant industry, I knew that my love for food and cooking was something I wanted to explore before I decided on a business to pursue. I took a few years learning how to cook as I did not have the resources to attend culinary school. I hosted dinner parties and a few pop ups in the city until I decided I was ready to start my catering business all while managing Redrocks full-time.
I was then offered an opportunity to open the first Korean bbq in DC, formerly as the General Manager but also acted as executive chef and developed their entire menu. When the pandemic happened, I was laid off from this position and turned my catering business into a CPG brand, Tae-Gu Kimchi. I am now selling my mother’s kimchi recipe at several farmers markets, e-commerce, and our goal is to become a national grocery brand.
Is there special significance behind the name Tae-Gu Kimchi?
My mother was born in Daegu, Korea. When thinking about the name for our brand, my father suggested Tae-Gu Kimchi since that is where he and my mom would spend a lot of time in Korea together. He loves the city.
It’s a catchy word and really captures the essence of our product being that it is my mom’s recipe. It was kind of perfect. I decided to use the T instead of the D and added the hyphen, so that it’s easier to pronounce and read.
What’s it like working with your mom?
Growing up, I would help my mom make kimchi in our backyard every year. That time really allowed us to become closer as it was difficult to communicate with each other due to our language barrier.
As an adult, I lost a lot of that connection when I went away to college and started pursuing my early career. Now that we are making kimchi together again, it reminds me of all the fun memories I had as a child and is allowing us to build a new special bond at this point in my life.
It gives us the time to talk about our lives, struggles, gossip, and laugh and have fun. I am so grateful to be able to have this as I know there are a lot of people who are not able to. I will cherish these memories forever and hopefully have a special bond with my future family.
Is there a food memory that stands out that you’d like to share?
My mom would take me to Chuseok every year to my aunt’s house when I was a child. I remember being overwhelmed by all of the delicious foods. My mom did cook most of our meals (Both Korean and American foods), but on this special day it was such a treat.
As I grew older to understand what the holiday actually means, I love celebrating it as an adult and honoring our ancestors and family that have passed, especially my grandmother who visited us over the summers growing up.
Which kimchi flavor is most popular?
I have to say that initially our classic is our most popular flavor, however, people are really coming to enjoy the extra spicy. There are a lot of spicy food lovers out there and so the sales are neck and neck.
Our vegan option is also really becoming popular with non-vegans as well. Once they try it, they tend to say that can’t really tell the difference and sometimes like it more than the classic!
For the vegan version, do you substitute ingredients for the shrimp paste?
We omit it, however we do add a plum extract that is becoming a popular ingredient in Kimchi recipes now. I think it gives it a great umami flavor with a touch of sweetness.
How can people purchase your kimchi?
You can find us at several Farmer’s markets in the DMV, purchase online for local and national delivery, and we are working hard to land our first grocery account so help us spread the word to your local grocery managers that Tae-Gu Kimchi need to be on their shelves.
Our mission it to provide approachable and delicious handcrafted authentic kimchi while educating you on it wonderful health and environmental benefits. Our goal is to make Tae-Gu Kimchi a staple condiment in your home by “Spreading the Love of Kimchi!”
Will you be opening a brick and mortar in the future?
We are looking at building out a kimchi facility to help with scaling for the grocery store and e-commerce business, but that would have a retail shop as well where we can offer other types of Korean food with a casual style service.
A huge thanks to chef Patrice for taking the time to answer our questions today! For those of you wondering, we’ve tried her kimchi, and it’s absolutely delicious. We’re big fans of the extra spicy because we love that extra heat, but you can’t go wrong with any flavor so make sure you give her fermented goodness a try ASAP! For more on DC food, make sure to check out this tab, and stay tuned for more content coming your way soon.