By Sue Gleiter | email@example.com
A Camp Hill woman is building a brand out of her family’s Korean kimchee recipe.
Joyce Park Williams recently launched Kimchee Girl, selling jars of the homemade fermented dish online and at pop up events. Inspired by her late mother, Yang Sun Park, who passed from lung cancer in 2013, Williams is hoping to bring Kimchee Girl to a national audience.
“I really want to make kimchee as popular as ketchup and mustard,” Williams said, adding “I just want my mom to be remembered.”
Growing up, Williams said her family would make homemade kimchee, a laborious process that took all week. Her parents legally immigrated from Seoul, South Korea in the early 1970s and arrived in New Cumberland. They grew all of the ingredients for the kimchee, a Korean staple made from napa cabbage and Daikon radish with seasonings such gochugaru, scallions, garlic and ginger.
It is often served as a condiment and side dish and used in soups.
Williams and her four siblings each had a role making the kimchee, cutting and cleaning ingredients such as cabbage and radishes. But as an adult, Williams said she realized she wasn’t familiar with the full process.
Last year during the coronavirus pandemic, she asked her dad, Sun Kyong, 85, to share the recipe. At the time Williams was out of work as a makeup artist. Williams and her husband, Kevin Williams, videotaped Kyong making the kimchee. To perfect the recipe, Williams made several batches.
“So we are here stuck with many gallons of kimchee,” she said. “Literally, we made 200 pounds of kimchee, so we’re like, ‘What are we going to do with all of this product?’”
As luck would have it a neighborhood yard sale was in the works. Williams prepared Korean barbecue and marinated spicy pork chops with the kimchee and sold it from her front yard.
“All these people came and it was raining. I think my neighbor said she was at $10 and I didn’t want to tell her what I was at. It was a lot,” Williams said.
Suddenly, a business was born. Williams acquired the proper permits including those from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. She makes and jars the kimchee in a commercial kitchen.
Kimchee Girl is sold in three varieties including Napa cabbage, cucumber and cubed radish. Unlike traditional kimchee, William’s version doesn’t contain fermented shrimp paste, so it’s vegan. It is also gluten-free, probiotic-rich and all-natural.
The product sells online as well as at Cornerstone Coffeehouse in Camp Hill and on Saturdays at the Market on Chocolate in Hershey. It sells for $12 for a 16-ounce jar and $22 for a 32-ounce size.
Williams also hosts occasional pop ups including at her Mechanicsburg office selling the kimchee and Kalbi beef short ribs, pork chops and kimchee topped hot dogs. It’s hard to miss the bubblegum pink tent decorated with a logo of a smiling girl with braids.
Susan Pera, owner of Cornerstone, said she was impressed by Williams and her product. Cornerstone sells all three kimchee varieties.
“Her product is so real and delicious,” Pera said, adding part of the appeal is the packaging. “If it’s not the right presentation and logo, it’s just going to sit there."
In addition, Pera said she liked the story behind the product. A portion of Kimchee Girl’s sales helps a cause close to Williams. She and her husband help families affected by cancer, whether buying Christmas gifts for children or helping to cover expenses.
Williams’ mother beat breast cancer but two years later was diagnosed with lung cancer. In 2016, Williams faced her own battle with breast cancer followed two years later by pre-uterine cancer.
Today, she’s cancer-free after several hospitalizations and treatments and forging ahead with Kimchee Girl.
“When you make the kimchee you really strive to make it like your mom did. I was very nervous. You hope that people love your food because it’s an extension of you,” Williams said.