Korea Immigrant Realizes American Dream as Restaurateur

KoreaJoy S. Lee emigrated with her husband from South Korea to Connecticut in 1983. In 1988 they moved to Boston, Massachusetts and made their home. She raised two beautiful daughters who are now self-sufficient women, making their own way in the world. Ten years ago she decided that she needed the freedom to pursue her dream and she divorced her husband after 25 years of marriage. She started by going back to school to study English. In 2006, she began to work towards her dream, starting small, working extremely long hours without vacation for low pay. She worked as a dishwasher and hostess in a Japanese restaurant in Boston, keeping her eyes towards her goal. Today she is the manager of a Japanese-Korean Boston area restaurant, co-owner of another, and is on her way to realizing her goals of becoming a successful property owner and restaurateur in America.

KoreaWhen Joy was a young girl, she observed her father, a successful property owner in South Korea, and she learned well from him. That knowledge remained dormant throughout her young adulthood; she had the skills, but did not put them to use. However, without formal business training, she learned what was necessary to run a successful small business. She understands in-depth the intricacies about purchase and sale of property, and from her days as a dishwasher, then hostess, then server at Samurai Boston, she learned the restaurant business. With this true grit on-the-job training, she got what she needed to discover her American Dream.

Once she had the knowledge and skill, she set her sights high. Nothing would stop her! She dreams of retiring some day and running a soup kitchen, which would help her give back to the community she has grown to call her own. Joy receives much of her strength and inspiration from the Lexington United Methodist Church, where her pastor gave her the English name, Joy. The name is taken from Galatians ch. 5:22 (New Testament), which states “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.” She helped to realize the church’s mission of feeding its membership of 850 and an additional 250 in the greater community. Thus began the dream of this immigrant from Korea on her path to become a restaurateur in America.

Today Samurai Boston is a successful business, managed by Joy and owned by Mr. Kun Jin Kim, situated in Copley Square, just down the street from the Boston Public Library, at 827 Boylston St. They serve Japanese and Korean cuisine and their market differentiators, aside from an excellent location and loyal customers, are their high quality menu items, their hours (till 2:00am Thursday through Saturday; till 1:00am Tuesday and Wednesday; and till 12:00am Sunday and Monday), and most importantly, that all of the Korean recipes are passed down from Joy’s mother and tested by Joy before bringing to the restaurant. If you’re looking for a delicious Korean home-cooked meal, this is the place. (The restaurant she co-owns – Moko in South Boston – has the same menu.)

Joy is always looking for the next best menu item through listening to customer needs and with an eye towards trends. She is now thinking of adding bite-sized items that are crispy, spicy, mild, and sweet with a focus on low-fat and healthy.

Implicit in every endeavor Joy takes is her trademark of respect and utmost care for people and processes. This is her distinctive “brand” and the reason that one might attribute to her success. Joy gives personalized attention to her customers at Samurai Boston and Moko, making them feel that they are unique and special. And, despite personal hardship, she has resiliency, grace and an optimistic outlook that is “contagious.” It is for this reason that this immigrant from South Korea is certain to realize her dream in America.

By Fern Remedi-Brown

Series of personal interviews with Joy S. Lee, February 2013 through March 2014
The Boston Herald, Business
The Boston Globe, Sidekick

2 Responses to "Korea Immigrant Realizes American Dream as Restaurateur"

  1. YogaUnbound   April 2, 2014 at 4:52 am

    Thank you for reinforcing that dreams can still be realized. As we hear so often lately, grit and resilience are qualities that cannot be taught yet are so essential to our success.

  2. Tina Gleisner   April 1, 2014 at 9:42 am

    What a great story & role model for today’s young people, that you need guts & a willingness to work hard to achieve your dreams, just like Joy has.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.