John Gleason, a Korean adoptee through Children’s Home, discovered his roots through food. “I grew up in the Twin Cities. I went to a mostly all-American elementary school, high school and college. So I grew up without a lot of connection to Korea. The only Asian I knew for a long time was my sister,” he explains. “It was really my love of food that helped me gain an appreciation for Korean cuisine and Korean culture.”
So he followed his “foodie likes and dislikes” to learn more. “I learned from dining out, experimenting with flavors and a lot of trial and error,” explains John. The result: the menu at Bap and Chicken on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul.
The menu is full of flavors you would expect to find at a Korean restaurant—Korean barbeque, gochujang (a traditional red sauce), and kimchee—and the main dishes are Korean fried chicken and bibimbap (Korean rice bowls).
However, John experiments with these traditional flavors. “I’ve gotten creative with the bibimbap bowls. Some are served with noodles, spring mix or potatoes instead of the traditional rice. And we have a build your own option,” he explains.
“The food that I cook, it’s just the food that I am. You’ll find American influences, European influences, and things that aren’t traditional to Korea,” John notes. “Our food is a good introduction to Korean food. Those who have had Korean food before enjoy it. Those who have not experienced Korean food will find the style to be very approachable.”
“What’s great about Bap and Chicken is that it’s about the love of food, the love of drink and the love of community,” says John. “We want it to be an experience.”
That experience relies on a fun environment. The restaurant is filled with K-pop throughout the day, and K-pop music videos can be watched on televisions throughout. The most notable element of the space: the Adoption Wall of Fame.
“There’s not enough tribute paid to those who have been adopted. There are so many people who have been adopted, and we want to recognize them and their experience—with all of the emotions that they may have experienced,” explains John.
“When you walk in the front door, you will see the Adoption Wall of Fame. We encourage all adoptees who are interested—not just Korean adoptees—to take a photo for the wall,” said John. “You can take it by yourself, with a loved one, or with something that you bring in that has significant meaning to you.”
The wall is a highlight of the restaurant. “We’ve already got 25-30 people who have added their photo to the wall,” notes John. “It’s a recognition piece, and it’s also a growing art piece. It will be a great foundation piece in the restaurant for years to come.”
To connect with more adoptees and the community, John is planning a recognition event on National Adoption Day, November 23. “I know National Adoption Day is a day when a ton of adoptions happen—which is really cool. I also want it to be a day to recognize those who have been adopted,” explains John. He hopes to add more faces to the Adoption Wall of Fame and introduce guests to delicious dishes, “Everyone who comes in that day will get a cup of kimchee jjigae, a traditional Korean stew, and we’ll be running specials all day.”
Join John in celebrating National Adoption Day at Bap and Chicken on Saturday, November 23. Bap and Chicken is located at 1328 Grand Avenue Saint Paul, MN 55105. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.