Updated: Sep 17
Nestled along a quiet side street between Vernon Blvd and Fifth Street, Little Banchan Shop has opened its doors to residents and visitors alike at 5-28 49th Ave. It is just a few steps down from Casa Enrique, and right next to the Long Island City Community Garden.
Owner and chef, Hooni Kim, launched this Korean specialty foods store just shy of a few weeks ago. Beyond the beautifully displayed products, we will be digging into the heart of Chef Hooni’s newest passion project in our growing neighborhood.
About Little Banchan Shop
What does banchan mean?
As its name suggests, Little Banchan Shop offers a variety of banchan, the Korean term for side dish. If you are not familiar with Korean cuisine, banchan is a staple in the household. It is not uncommon for a dining table to be filled with a spread of banchan. Can you imagine that breakfast? Yes please!
Drawing from his heritage as a Seoul native, Chef Hooni Kim combines the taste of home with his experience as a successful restaurateur, to make these dishes more accessible for people in the city.
Chef Hooni places an emphasis on using high quality ingredients and contributing to a culture of sustainability (similar to the philosophies at Danji & Hanjan, his other restaurants in the city). You will find the names of their local purveyors and farmers on labels across the refrigerated shelves and kitchen glass window inside the store.
Location: 5-28 49th Ave, Queens, NY 11101
Hours: Mon, Wed-Sat 8 am - 9 pm / Sun 9 am - 8 pm / Tues Closed
Parking: Street parking
Accessibility: 2 minutes walking distance from the 7 train and a few stops away from connection to the G, E, and M trains.
Inside the Store
Both fresh and fermented dishes are produced in small batches on site, with the exception of some manufactured snacks and beverages.
Aside from the clean, open aesthetic of the store, the attention to detail in packaging is worth noting. I appreciate how each banchan has both an English translation and Romanized version of the name for customers to read. It may be a minor detail, but sharing how something is authentically pronounced in its native language provides a more holistic approach to culture sharing; neither diluting nor modifying the beauty of openly learning about the depths of another culture. I love how it creates room for people to appreciate something for what it is rather than assimilating.
Now the grab and go retail items are enough of an operation on their own. However, the shop takes it one step further and offers fresh single origin coffee, lunch, and dinner menu items.
And if you're an observer, you’ll notice a mysterious door towards the back by the kitchen. For all my fellow foodies in LIC… get ready for a new tasting menu restaurant this fall!
Is it Worth it?
5 stars! This is a lovely new addition to the neighborhood. It feels both fresh and also as if it’s been here this whole time. The approachable and friendly staff matches the calm ambience of the store. You will likely meet one of the chefs if they’re coming in and out of the kitchen, or be greeted by one of their super friendly baristas, such as Frankie.
Price Point & Value
The products can range from just under $7 into the double digits. I’ll be honest, the price point is on the higher side, and I’ve also read about the criticism from other online reviews regarding it being "overpriced". However, I’d like to challenge that thought by encouraging the reviewers who say that it’s more cost effective to prepare these dishes at home by saying… yes, then please go home and do so!
Your banchan and Hmart’s banchan will not taste the same, nor will this shop’s in comparison to my Korean aunties out there. Discovering your own special touch is a part of what makes cooking fun!
To me, it is apparent how Chef Hooni’s focus on fresh and quality ingredients are reflected in the final product. Each dish tastes lighter than that of the normal Korean restaurant or supermarket selection, all without compromising flavor or texture. And beyond the consumer’s experience, the purchasing decisions affect our larger food network. What a perfect segway into my next point!
Cultural Impact & Value
At its forefront, you can say there's representation for the AAPI community and small businesses (fist pump).
At the heart of its operations you have:
A culinary team producing everything in house in small batches to ensure freshness. Labor cost is often overlooked while chefs and hospitality workers work really hard to curate a final product and experience.
Ingredients sourced from family owned farms that operate with sustainable practices to provide the best food.
A business owner setting the tone for why investing in local, trustworthy food suppliers matter. There is a present issue of increasing food insecurity (which can be a whole different post!), and one way to raise awareness is to operate a little more transparently within the food system and being intentional with how a business supports that network.