Changsu Kristopher Lee opened his part-time takeout restaurant, Korean Dad, in Veazie in the spring of 2021. It has since turned into a restaurant incubator, with other part-time eateries sharing the space, Jan. 19, 2023. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Changsu Kristopher Lee opened his part-time takeout restaurant Korean Dad so he could spend his weekends cooking the food he loves for his community.

He has sold out of Korean classics like bulgogi, japchae and bibimbap most weekends since he began serving them in May 2021 from his tiny kitchen at 1492 State St. in Veazie.

But with his primary career as a professor of business and mathematics at Eastern Maine Community College, Lee sees beyond the simple joy of cooking and into the business of running a food operation — and how challenging it is for many would-be restaurateurs to fund a brick and mortar eatery. The National Restaurant Association estimates that 30 percent fail within their first year of being open.

Now Lee finds himself not only cooking Korean cuisine on Saturdays, but also operating what has turned out to be a kind of restaurant incubator in the Veazie space, with a part-time Cajun eatery, Ca C’est Bon, which opened earlier this month, and a part-time Filipino restaurant, Kucina, set to debut in February among the fares.

Veazie, Maine — January 19, 2023 — A sign for Cajun eatery is seen inside the door of the Veazie restaurant. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

“I certainly did not envision this when we started Korean Dad, but it’s ended up being something where we can actually help a lot of people who want to start a restaurant, but are faced with a huge barrier to entry,” Lee said. “Opening a restaurant is incredibly risky. Why not take away most of the risk and let people share a space and work out the kinks before they go big?”

Joy Dudley, who will open Kusina in February, has already operated a small bakery out of her home in Hermon — Baked By Joy — offering pastries inspired by her Filipino heritage. With Kusina, she’s going to expand her offerings to include Filipino dishes like lumpia spring rolls, pork belly with kare kare peanut sauce and Bacolod chicken inasal, a grilled marinated chicken dish famous in her hometown of Bacolod in the Philippines.

“We’re planning to offer modern Filipino comfort food,” she said. “This has been a dream of mine since I moved here. I’m so excited to have the chance to bring this to people.”

Kusina will start by selling takeout dishes on Fridays. The Veazie space will then have Korean Dad’s food on Saturdays, and Cajun dishes like gumbo, etouffee and muffalettas from Ca C’est Bon on Sundays.

Ca C’est Bon will offer food out of Veazie until May, when it transitions to operating a food truck in Bangor, though owner Stephen Cousineau plans to continue using the Veazie kitchen to do food prep work for the truck.

Lee said that it’s unrealistic for many people who want to start a restaurant to embark on the expensive, time-consuming, difficult work of building and opening a full-service restaurant, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars in start-up money alone — an expense that’s even higher today due to rising costs of rent, energy and food.

“Here, we have a commercial licensed kitchen that’s all set up for takeout, and all you have to do is get your own license and bring your food and your skills to the table. If for whatever reason you decide it’s not for you, you’re not out $50,000. You’re not in major debt,” he said. “And if it works, then you’re way better equipped to move on to something larger.”

Changsu Kristopher Lee opened his part-time takeout restaurant, Korean Dad, in Veazie in the spring of 2021. It has since turned into a restaurant incubator, with other part-time eateries sharing the space, Jan. 19, 2023. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Lee pointed to Mi Causa, a Peruvian takeout restaurant that Bangor resident Betho Perez-Narváez opened in the Veazie space in September, as a perfect example of how his model works.

Perez-Narváez served up Peruvian cuisine for about four months before putting the brakes on further plans to open a standalone restaurant.

“He wants to wait until his children are older before he goes any further, and he realized that a few months in. He was able to walk away without any major financial burden,” Lee said. “That’s when I realized that this model really works.”

Lee said that he’s working with a few other area chefs and start-up food businesses to get them into Veazie later on in the spring and summer, to hopefully have food offerings available throughout the week. He also wants to eventually build a deck on the front of the building with an awning, so people can have a place to eat their takeout food on site.

Aside from the business success, Lee said he’s especially proud of being able to shine a light on the culinary diversity that exists within the Bangor community.

“I take a lot of pride in being able to help people get their dreams off the ground, and to showcase all the different cuisines we have right here,” he said. “Plus, what other restaurants are there around here where there are three different food options under one roof?”

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Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.