East Village restaurant known for kimchi burger expands thanks to NYC's new loan program

CeFaan Kim Image
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Restaurant known for kimchi burger expands thanks to NYC loan program
CeFaan Kim reports on a new small business loan expansion program.

BUSHWICK, Brooklyn (WABC) -- New York City is launching a new loan program designed to help small businesses develop and expand, and one of the first recipients is a chef in Manhattan who is using the loan to bring his popular creation to a new borough.

The inventor of the popular kimchi burger is expanding from the East Village to Brooklyn thanks to a financial boost from the New York City Department of Small Business Services.

The most popular dish at Nowon is their legendary cheeseburger, sitting on top of a layer of chopped kimchi.

"We add some raw white onion at the bottom. And then the sauce is made with some kimchi as well," said Nowon chef and owner Jae Lee. "It's two four-ounce patties so it's half a pound of meat. It's a hefty burger."

It was the burger that allowed chef Lee to open a second location. His first restaurant is in the East Village, the new one is in Bushwick. But to get to Brooklyn, a loan from a traditional lender wasn't enough.

"No way, 100% no, because I don't have any partners or investors," Lee said. "It was really just all the savings I had and borrowing money from my brother and parents to open this, so I really needed the loan."

So, he turned to the New York City's Department of Small Business Services, which offered him a loan with more money up front, at almost half the rate and allowed him three times longer to pay it back.

Kevin Kim is the Small Business Services commissioner. The department launched the loan fund last February. It was the largest public private partnership loan fund ever directed to small businesses.

"In one year's time, we were able to deploy $85 million of capital to over a thousand small businesses," Kim said. "Eighty percent of which were minority or women-owned businesses, 69% which BIPC owned and 59% which we low moderate income communities."

That fund though expired months ago but based on its success, the city is now doubling down. On Wednesday it will announce a 2.0 evergreen version of the fund.

Also on Wednesday, the city will launch their first-ever small business expo, which will provide a variety of free information, resources, and direct services that address the needs of small business owners of all stages, industries and boroughs.

"The city was devastated by the COVID pandemic and we lost thousands of businesses or had businesses on the brink of closing," Kim said. "And so we said we need to inject capital access to assist new businesses to open and the numbers show that. We have over one in every six businesses that's open today started since the Adams administration."

Kim is also the first Korean American commissioner of a city agency. He's set to step down next month, leaving a legacy behind he couldn't have imagined.

Nowon now employees more than 50 staff and is helping bring Korean-inspired pizza from the East Village to Brooklyn.

If you're a small business looking for financial assistance, you can visit the city's website for more information.


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