KAs@Work: Jimmy Han of Beer Belly
Just when the drinking scene in Koreatown started to get a bit played out, a new craft beer bar made its mark on the map. Renovated with the help of exceptionally creative minds and lots of TLC, Beer Belly opened its doors to LA ready to give it a taste of something fresh and new. Owners/husband-and-wife duo Jimmy and Yume Han have taken craft beer and presented it as something surprisingly refreshing and comforting. We talked with Jimmy about the exciting things happening at Beer Belly.
Where did you get the concept for Beer Belly?
It started with my love for craft beer, and I guess my love for beer probably came from my love for food. Beer is like food in the way where it doesn’t have to be fancy like ‘lobster truffle mac and cheese.’ It just has to have fresh ingredients, a creative recipe, and some TLC from the person making it and you get some really amazing stuff. I’ve been a big fan of craft beer and it’s approachable and, even more than the beer, it’s the culture of craft beer. Everyone is so supportive, down-to-earth and relaxed. There’s no dress code, no rules. Everyone just wants to enjoy some good beer. So once I got deep into the craft beer culture, it was just fate. It was a no brainer because as much as I wanted to do other things, the support and the community was just amazing.
What about people who are still skeptical about Beer Belly?
For this project I wanted to have fun with it. And if people say, ‘Well, I’m not going to drink beer because it’s going to give me a beer belly”… well, that’s the whole point. You should be able to have fun with it and have a good time. Everyone is going through hard times but that doesn’t mean you can’t have good food and good beer and enjoy some time with your loved ones. So in coming up with this project I wanted to work with creative individuals. The architecture, the artwork by Yoshi Takahashi, even the tabletop and tables are custom steel from Eagle Rock, and it’s custom patina! The chairs are each made from 111 recycled coke bottles. Even with the beer and the chef, Wes, it’s all about creativity and doing stuff that’s new and seeing if it works, that is probably what has brought me the most joy so far.
BB has a meticulously curated collection of beers. What is the process you go through in selecting a beer for the restaurant?
I really just pick what I like. I do try to focus on our local breweries though. San Diego, San Francisco… they’re known for their great craft beer, and L.A. is kind of a baby in the craft beer community. More importantly than having L.A. put on the map for craft beer, is being able to support each other. It’s this idea of localism not only for food and farmers, but also for beer in ‘local pores’ you could call it. It’s also about being able to help each other through the recession and come out of it by supporting one another from the inside out.
Being in Koreatown amidst the drinking culture, how do you think BB fares?
It’s kind of that one non-Korean getaway spot in Koreatown – which is what I wanted. There are enough Korean bars out there so I wanted to make sure that what we did over here was completely unique, and completely different. Our beer changes everyday, and our food menu changes almost everyday, and I wanted to make sure that you couldn’t get this stuff anywhere else. So, whether you like it or not, you have to give us a try.
BB’s executive chef, Wesley Lieberher, was recently crowned the ‘Top Grill Master’ at the 3rd Annual KBBQ Cook-off. What was that like?
That was great! I mean, Wes is so talented. He’s kind of a rock star, so for him to go out there and be judged by Jonathan Gold and Simon Majumdar was good. The feedback we got was really great and there were no criticism. I know they recognized that Wes was a chef, and he’s been in the kitchen working his a** off six-seven days a week, 12 hours a day. Even right now he doesn’t take dinner breaks; he just grinds it out. And I’m not the one that says that they can’t take dinner breaks—that’s just how they live, that’s the lifestyle ,and it’s their passion. Now that he’s in Koreatown, he takes all his experience in Philly, French and Korean cuisine and combines that all to do something that isn’t really fancy at all. It was his typical comfort food with some Korean ingredients and it was nice to go out and win that. I knew he was gonna win from the beginning though!
Lastly, what’s your favorite craft beer?
Craftsman Triple White Sage. It’s from Pasadena and they pick sage from the foothills of Pasadena. This was one of my first beers that opened up my eyes and showed me that beer can be really creative and really good. And it’s only brewed once a year during the summer.
[Photos: Audrey Yun-Suong]