How Atoboy from New York City Stayed Open and Connected to the Community

Grateful customers brewed coffee for remote deliveries, and some brought their own food as gifts when taking orders.

All Zagat stories are written by our editorial team. This story is brought to you by our partner Chase Sapphire®.

Through the hardships of the past year, restaurants have been there for their communities. They’ve moved on to take-out, provided meals for essential workers, and more. The Sapphire Support Restaurants competition is awarding $ 50,000 business grants from Chase Sapphire to 20 small-business restaurants across America to provide recovery assistance in the event of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zagat Stories features interviews with all of our Sapphire Supports Restaurants Contests grant recipients.

Ellia Park is partner, with her husband / chef Junghyun “JP” Park, of the avant-garde Korean restaurants Atoboy and Atomix in New York.

Before the pandemic, we were in a good position for both restaurants. Both were fine. After the pandemic, that changed a lot for the two restaurants, especially for Atoboy. Many of the staff were actually from other cities or countries, so they returned to live with their families.

But for Atoboy, we actually didn’t close our restaurant at all during the pandemic. I feel like I opened seven or eight different restaurants. We had never done a delivery before, and we had to set up delivery with many companies and our own delivery. We all worked together to deliver to Brooklyn and Queens every day.

Dishes at the Atoboy restaurant. Photo: Kate Prévit.

We emailed our regular customers telling them we were going to start our own delivery as Caviar and Uber Eats only cover three miles around our restaurant. So even though our guests lived in Brooklyn or Queens, if they were a little scared to go out but wanted to have our food, we delivered to them ourselves twice a day. Our guests were waiting for us and every time we dropped off the food they also prepared something for us. They were really, really memorable moments. Someone made us coffee because it was very cold. It was so sweet.

We have created our online merchandise business called Atonae. We have collaborated with many artists to sell our products, for example the T-shirts and the key to wine. We partnered with a wine company to make our own wine. Then we started to eat outdoors and changed it several times due to the seasons. Then we opened up our indoor dining room, first 30 percent, then 50 percent, then 75 percent. First with partitions, then without partitions.

We couldn’t handle this change on our own. The most important thing for us and our team, especially the JP and I management team, was to stay strong and in good mental health. The good thing was that our management team really came together for our business. And our regular guests have supported us so much. Whenever we saw a familiar name on the delivery slip, or when they sent me a letter in the post supporting us… It was a difficult situation, but at the same time I was so grateful to be in this. restaurant and to meet all the great people who have really supported us a lot.

I was a little worried about calling our staff back to come to work when we reopened our restaurants. They really hesitated to come back. They were afraid to meet all the guests. They did not know who had been vaccinated or not, or who had received COVID or not. We have taken the time to take care of our staff mentally. Now I’m really thinking about mental health in our industry – how to keep our people mentally healthy.

Photo: Kate Prévit.

I’m so glad we were able to keep Atoboy open. I also ordered delivery during the pandemic, and I was so happy when I had great food and great wine at home. I felt so happy, so recharged. I hope that our food also gave this kind of emotion to our guests.

Among our regular customers is a couple named Caspar and Dora. They were super regular guests before the pandemic, but after the pandemic they went out to get their own food every Friday, no matter if it was a rainy day or a snowy day. They cooked and baked for themselves, and whenever they came on Fridays, they would always drop food for us too when they were picking up our food. Every week they would bake a pastry, a granola or a cake for us. When we reopened our restaurant, they were our first customers and they brought us flowers. And every time we did a merchandise collaboration, they bought everything.

So many good things have happened to us in recent weeks. Atomix was named one of the 50 best restaurants in the world and the New York Times List of 2021 restaurants. We were discussing with our team yesterday. If we hadn’t gone through the pandemic last year – to take on the challenge together – we couldn’t be here today. We also couldn’t be here without our team and community who trust us so much. I’m so, so glad we didn’t give up. We stayed with our community, and we stayed with our family and all the staff together. These painful moments have given us many glorious moments of these last days. It was a difficult year, but it was also a very significant year.

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