Eating IN: A sneak peek at the True Kimchi Cafe, Fort Wayne's new source for Korean staples

From the time Samantha Yim was a child, she's had a strong affinity for kimchi--a Korean banchan (side dish) invented thousands of years ago to preserve vegetables throughout Korea’s winter season. Kimchi is traditionally made using wild fermentation, vegetables—like cabbage or radish—and a variety of aromatics and seasonings. The end result is puckery, salty, and often spicy. Samantha Yim

Missing her family’s kimchi, Yim founded her business, True Kimchi, in Fort Wayne about four years ago. In addition to filling the void of her family’s homecooking, she created the business as a way to share her culture with her new community.

Now, thanks to her explosive success at farmers markets and pop ups, she’s expanding into a storefront cafe and Korean market at 2805 E. State Blvd. where she plans to share even more from her roots in Seoul. 

I've followed Yim and her business since its beginning at farmers markets. Her brand has so many great attributes, it’s hard to know where to start. True Kimchi not only handcrafts a delicious, authentic product, but because it’s fermented, it’s also gut-healthy and a great way to extend the life of produce year-round. This, in turn, helps reduce food waste. 

True Kimchi is expanding into a storefront cafe and Korean market at 2805 E. State Blvd.

If that’s not enough to turn you on to True Kimchi, they work with local farms and food producers to source their produce.

In addition to offering tasty, sustainable, locally-sourced treats, the True Kimchi brand is all about sharing Korean culture through the vehicle of food and expanding the city's food diversity. Despite Fort Wayne’s growth, Korean ingredients can still be hard to come by locally—a problem Yim is intent on solving.

Stopping by to talk about True Kimchi Cafe’s opening, I giddily gaze at stocked shelves of staples, like gochujang, doenjang, and gochugaru—the chili flake that’s responsible for the heat and red hue in many types of kimchi.

True Kimchi Cafe's shelves are stocked with Korean staples, like gochujang, doenjang, and gochugaru—the chili flake that’s responsible for the heat and red hue in many types of kimchi.

In addition to self-stable sauces, spices, rice, noodles, and snacks, there’s a fridge and freezer full of house-made banchan (Korean side dishes), tteok (Korean rice cakes), mandu (Korean dumplings), frozen desserts, like Melona, and of course, kimchi.

Excited to learn more, I ask Sam a few questions about True Kimchi’s evolution, her new digs, and the cafe’s grand opening on October 14th.

True Kimchi is expanding into a storefront cafe and Korean market at 2805 E. State Blvd.


Molly: I understand that your kimchi is deeply personal to you—that you use a sacred family recipe that’s been passed down through generations. 

First off, thank you for sharing it with our community. Family recipes are special. They have the power to help us feel connected to family who aren’t near or who are no longer with us. 

Can you talk about some of your early experiences making kimchi and who taught you?

Sam: My mother taught me how to make kimchi at a young age. She never sat me down and taught me step-by-step; it happened more naturally. I'd watch her make a batch for our family every fall during cabbage season, and I was the designated taste tester. I feel grateful that I'm able to share what's arguably the most important food in Korean culture. 

My first time trying kimchi was in pre-school. I don't remember this, but my mom tells me this story all the time. The school had all the kids try some kkakdugi (radish kimchi) just to try kimchi for the first time, and while all the other kids found it to be too spicy, apparently I wouldn't stop eating it! I guess my love for spicy foods started at a very early age.

True Kimchi works with local farms and food producers to source their produce.

Molly: When you started out selling your kimchi at farmers markets, was it always a goal of yours to have a brick-and-mortar location—or did that evolve naturally? How did True Kimchi Cafe come to be?

Sam: Definitely not. True Kimchi was meant to be a side gig for supplemental income. A lot of people have told me I'm smart for starting a kimchi business, as its popularity took off, but really, I desperately wanted to share the traditional kimchi I grew up with. True Kimchi is 100 percent driven by my passion to share my culture, undiluted.

We evolved from a home-based vendor to a pop-up food vendor to a wholesale kimchi business to now a cafe in the past four years. It's wild to think about.

In addition to offering tasty, sustainable, locally-sourced treats, the True Kimchi brand is all about sharing Korean culture through the vehicle of food and expanding the city's food diversity.

Molly: What can people expect on the menu when they visit your new cafe?

Sam: We'll have a small menu of Korean staples, such as bibimbap, kimbap, and kimchi fried rice. We'll also have a rotating specials menu, featuring things like galbijjim (braised short ribs), kimchi pancakes, dumplings, and more. 

All the produce and proteins on the menu are sourced from local farmers we trust and love.

In addition to offering tasty, sustainable, locally-sourced treats, the True Kimchi brand is all about sharing Korean culture through the vehicle of food and expanding the city's food diversity.

Molly: Your cafe also serves as a market, which is great! I’ve found it difficult to find some Korean ingredients in town and often end up ordering them online. Was this part of your vision for the new location—to make Korean ingredients more accessible in town? 

Sam: Absolutely! Folks tell me all the time that they can't find Korean pantry staples and end up having to order online or go to Chicago to find things. Fort Wayne has grown so much in the past four years I've been here, and I think we're ready for a designated Korean market.

The market is stocked with all the pantry staples for Korean cooking, as well as many fun and delicious snacks, ice creams, and drinks I grew up with.

In addition to offering tasty, sustainable, locally-sourced treats, the True Kimchi brand is all about sharing Korean culture through the vehicle of food and expanding the city's food diversity.

It'll also feature other types of banchan (side dishes) other than kimchi on a rotating basis. For the soft opening, we made spicy fish cakes, bok choy banchan, braised black beans, radish salad, and stir-fried anchovy. If you've been to stores like H Mart in bigger cities, you've seen their aisle dedicated to all the different kinds of freshly made banchan. It'll be like that, but on a smaller scale and made with locally sourced produce.

In addition to offering tasty, sustainable, locally-sourced treats, the True Kimchi brand is all about sharing Korean culture through the vehicle of food and expanding the city's food diversity.

Molly: Can you tell me about your opening on Oct. 14 and any special plans for the day? 

Sam: We'll have our full food menu, and the market will be fully stocked. I'm beyond excited to share what we've been working on. As for surprises, you'll have to come in and see!

In addition to offering tasty, sustainable, locally-sourced treats, the True Kimchi brand is all about sharing Korean culture through the vehicle of food and expanding the city's food diversity.

Molly: Is there anything else you want people to know about the new True Kimchi Cafe or your brand? 
 
Sam: One of the things that make our brand unique is that we not only make traditional Korean foods, but we are extremely careful about how we source our ingredients. I think there's a misconception out there that Asian food, in general, is meant to be cheap or made with the cheapest ingredients you can find. We're lucky that we got to build relationships naturally with many farmers at the local farmers markets. They really opened my eyes about how food should be grown and made. 

Hours & Location: 
 
True Kimchi Cafe’s grand opening on Oct. 14 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at their new brick-and-mortar spot at 2805 E State Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46805.

Regular store hours are Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Website and social media:

Check out True Kimchi’s website!

Follow them on social media! They have Facebook and two Instagram pages—one for the True Kimchi brand and another for their cafe and provisions!

Read more articles by Molly Conner.

Molly Conner is a Fort Wayne native. Driven by curiosity and affection for culinary crafts, Molly’s writing explores our food-focused community—from haute, experimental eateries to no-frills, all-flavor mom-and-pops.