James Choi wants to make Korean cuisine a bigger part Boston’s fast-casual food world. The financial services professional-turned-restaurant entrepreneur spent the better part of the last year developing Perillas, a forthcoming restaurant that puts a bit of a spin on Korean bibimbap. Now, he and business partner William Yoo are looking for a storefront to build out a permanent home for it.
Perillas will focus on bibimbap, or rice bowls, served with vegetables and assorted proteins. Typically, Choi said, the Korean dish is served with lightly fried vegetables, but he has experimented with pickling vegetables instead, for a lighter, fresh taste. Perillas’s bowls will have three protein options, including bulgogi beef, spicy chicken marinated in a house sauce, and teriyaki tofu, which will be an option for vegan and gluten-free diners.
“Our goal is to serve people, and we want people to enjoy our food,” Choi said.
Choi’s path from finance to food began with his belief that business culture and workplace environments could be improved. He left a management consulting job to go back to school and study workplace leadership and ethics.
“Initially I thought that I was going to go back into corporate and apply all I’ve learned in that setting to create a culture that I thought was going to be better,” Choi said.
But his plans changed. Choi met Yoo, who owns several fast-food franchises in the area and invited Choi to work with him. Yoo had been looking for a new business partner, and the timing was right.
“I learned the business from the ground up for a year, the ins and outs of everything; then we started working on a business idea,” said Choi. “I’ve always wanted to figure out a way to get a fast and convenient Korean food option. But I didn’t see [fast-casual] Korean food, and I didn’t know why it wouldn’t work — I felt like it would.”
Choi began developing recipes in 2017 and tested the bibimbap bowls through catering for local businesses. He was bolstered by positive feedback, and now he and Yoo are entering the next stage of the process for turning Perillas into a full-blown restaurant: They’re scouting locations and looking for potential investors. While Choi said they’d love to be in a place like Cambridge’s Kendall Square, they’re also considering Somerville’s Assembly Row and elsewhere.
“We’re open to thinking creatively and outside the box a little bit,” he said.
Once Perillas opens, it will join the likes of several casual restaurants in Boston serving inventive takes on Korean dishes, including OliToki, which does Korean-Mexican fusion (think bulgogi burritos and tacos), and Coreanos, which serves tacos and kimchi quesadillas alongside more traditional Korean dishes, such as bibimbap and tteokbokki. Both are small, counter-service restaurants. Boston also has a growing number of full-service restaurants that veer toward the more traditional side of Korean cuisine, such as Buk Kyung, Seoul Soulongtang, and Meju.
For updates on Perillas’s hunt for a location, follow along on its Instagram page.