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How NYC’s Atoboy Stayed Open And Connected To Community

Grateful customers made coffee for distant deliveries, and some brought their own food as gifts when picking up orders.

All Zagat Stories are written by our editorial team. This story is presented by our partner Chase Sapphire®.

Through the difficulties of the past year, restaurants have been there for their communities. They’ve pivoted to takeout, provided meals to essential workers, and so much more. The Sapphire Supports Restaurants Contest is awarding $50,000 business grants from Chase Sapphire to 20 small-business restaurants across America to provide COVID-19 pandemic recovery assistance. Zagat Stories is featuring interviews with all of our Sapphire Supports Restaurants Contests grant recipients.

Ellia Park is a partner—along with her husband/chef Junghyun “JP” Park—at design-forward Korean restaurants Atoboy and Atomix in New York City.

Before the pandemic, we were in a good position for both restaurants. Both were going well. After the pandemic, it changed a lot for both restaurants, especially for Atoboy. Many people on staff were actually from other cities or other countries, so they went back to stay 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 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 Atoboy restaurant. Photo: Kate Previte.

We sent out an email to our regular guests saying we were going to start our own delivery because Caviar and Uber Eats only cover three miles around our restaurant. So even if our guests were living out in Brooklyn or Queens, if they were a little scared to come out but wanted to have our food, we would deliver to them ourselves twice a day. Our guests were waiting for us, and whenever we dropped off the food, they prepared something for us, too. Those were some really, really memorable moments. One person prepared some coffee for us because it was really cold weather. It was so sweet.

We set up our merchandise company online, which is called Atonae. We collaborated with many artists to sell our products—for example, the T-shirts and the wine key. We collaborated with a wine company to make our own wine. Then we started outdoor dining and changed it many times because of the seasons. Then we opened our indoor dining, first 30 percent, then 50 percent, then 75 percent. First with partitions, then without partitions.

We couldn’t handle this change by ourselves. The most important thing for us and our team—especially the management team of JP and me—was to stay strong and mentally healthy. The good thing was that our management team really stuck together for our company. And our regular guests supported us so much. Whenever we saw a familiar name on the delivery order, or when they sent me a letter in the mail to support us … It was a hard situation, but at the same time I was so grateful to be at this restaurant and to meet all the good people that really supported us a lot.

I was a little worried to call back our staff to come to work when we reopened our restaurants. They really hesitated to come back. They had a fear about meeting all the guests. They weren’t sure who had gotten vaccinated or not, or who had gotten COVID or not. We took the time to take care of our staff mentally. Now I’m really thinking about mental health in our industry—how to keep our staff mentally healthy.

Photo: Kate Previte.

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

Among our regular customers is a couple named Casper and Dora. They were super-regular guests before the pandemic, but after the pandemic hit, they came out to pick up their own food every Friday, no matter if it was a rainy day or snowy day. They cooked and baked for themselves, and whenever they came on Friday they always dropped off some food for us too when they picked up our food. Every single week, they made a pastry or granola or cake for us. When we reopened our restaurant, they were our first guests, and they brought us flowers. And whenever we did a merchandise collaboration, they bought everything.

So many good things happened for us in the last few weeks. Atomix was named to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants and the New York Times 2021 Restaurant List. We were talking with our team yesterday. If we hadn’t pushed through the pandemic last year—to face the challenge together—we couldn’t be here today. We also couldn’t be here without our team, and our 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 of the staff together. These painful times gave us lots of the glorious moments in these past few days. It was a hard year, but it was a really meaningful year, too.