Percussionist With a Full Plate
School of Music Faculty Member Bangs the Drum for Korean Comfort Food at New College Park Eatery
Eric Shin indulges his passion for percussion as a faculty member in the School of Music and principal percussionist in the National Symphony Orchestra. But growing up in a food-loving Korean-American family led him to take on a new kind of gig.
In 2016, Shin founded SeoulSpice, which serves what he calls Korean comfort food with a fast-casual twist. He opened the newest location in College Park's Terrapin Row in November after hearing comments from students and other community members about a need for more diverse dining options.
His mother, who owned a Korean restaurant in Atlanta, has always focused on traditional dishes. When eating out with friends, Shin often assumed the role of “Korean food guide” to help navigate a menu that can be an overwhelming for the uninitiated.
“Growing up in America … you struggle with this culture thing, but the one thing that stayed true throughout my childhood is the food,” Shin said.
When he launched the first SeoulSpice in D.C. in 2016, he was used to hosting dinner parties for friends and family, but the line of lunch-goers that wrapped around the block on opening day overwhelmed the former home cook.
“I was like, oh my gosh, how are we going to feed all of these people?” Shin said. “We ran out of food by 2 p.m.—it was just ridiculous.”
Shin pulls inspiration from his family’s recipes, such as for thin-sliced ribeye beef, but is open to innovations that lead to quick and accessible options for customers. When the process of slicing kimbap, a sushi-like dish, proved too complex at a tasting party with friends, it was his guests who discovered a new approach.
“We thought we were going to throw out the whole idea of serving kimbap, but then people just began eating the roll like a burrito,” Shin said. “And sure enough, we put it on the menu as a ‘korrito’ and it really stuck.”
SeoulSpice also offers rice bowls, tacos and salads as a base for marinated meats, as well as vegetarian proteins and seasoned and fermented vegetables. Customers have their pick of sauces with varying level of heat, all made from scratch, and extras like what the menu calls “the” egg—soaked in soy sauce until it’s both sweet and savory.
Balancing his responsibilities in the music world with those in the restaurant business can be tough at times, but the employees at SeoulSpice have made it much easier on him, Shin said.
“The secret is having really great people,” Shin said. “I like to find people that are passionate, that have a shared vision, and do their thing.”
Shin has always enjoyed support from his family in creating the restaurant. While Eric and his sister, Shannon, are both naturals in the kitchen, Eric’s perseverance and ability to identify trends are what allowed him to take his culinary skills from hobby to business, Shannon said.
“I won’t take on any risk at all, but my brother would tell me it’s not a risk if you know you’re going to succeed,” Shannon said.
However, not all of Shin’s relatives can get behind some of the less authentic options—especially the cilantro-lime ranch sauce, which Shin incorporated in homage to Houston, where he lived for two years.
“A buddy of mine got me addicted to it and I started putting it on Asian food,” Shin said. “My grandma always tells me I have to take it off the menu, but that one’s definitely going to stay.”