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Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons

Yisoon Kim, co-founder of Shin-La, stands in the kitchen with the new owners of the long-time Brattleboro restaurant, Danny, left, and Jimmy Lin of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Food and Drink

A new chapter for Shin La

Brothers buy Korean restaurant from longtime owners of longstanding Brattleboro eatery

BRATTLEBORO—In January 2018, Yisoon Kim broke her wrist after slipping and fall on ice in front of her home.

Kim, the co-owner of Shin La, the Korean restaurant and sushi bar at 57 Main St., had to temporarily close the business while she healed, leading her customers to fear that Shin La would be closing for good.

Kim did eventually reopen, but she was determined to stick to her plan she had begun nearly three years earlier — to find a new owner for Shin La, and to have time enough to say goodbye to her many loyal customers.

However, on the final day of 2018, Kim served her last customers and closed the doors to Shin La after nearly 35 years of business.

But it turned out that the door was left just slightly ajar.

A pair of brothers from Brooklyn, N.Y., Danny and Jimmy Lin, were interested in succeeding Kim. After ironing out the legalities and the finances, they officially took ownership of the restaurant in March and reopened it in mid-April.

The name and menu remain the same, and Kim is helping Shin La’s new owners during the transition period.

This is the Lins’ first try at owning a restaurant. Danny said they looked at places in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but they could not find anything on the market that they considered a good fit.

Then the Lins saw the online sale listing for Shin La, and made the trip to Brattleboro to talk with Kim.

They hit it off immediately.

“They are very smart young men,” said Kim. “They work hard, they’re very kind to the customers, and they learned everything so quickly.”

She saw parallels to her own story in the reasons the brothers came to Brattleboro.

Yisoon and her husband, Tae Mo Kim, came to Brattleboro from Baltimore, Md., in 1981. They emigrated to the United States from the province of Chungbuk in South Korea.

She said that she and her family had to deal with crime, vandalism, and general harassment in the neighborhood in Baltimore where the family’s first restaurant was located.

“People were bothering us every day,” Yisoon said. “I wanted to escape and go someplace quieter. Up here, we don’t make as much, but nobody bothers us.”

After running a soup and sandwich shop on Elliot Street for a couple of years, the Kims bought the Ullery Block on Main Street in 1985 and opened Shin La.

Yisoon said she and her family hadn’t planned to stay in Brattleboro for as long as they did, “but this restaurant saved our lives. I raised three children from this restaurant and they came out very quality people.”

She said that was why the Lins also embraced Brattleboro: it was a quieter place to raise a family.

“We chose this place for our future, and Danny and Jimmy chose it for the same reason,” she said.

For 18 years, Yisoon had been running the restaurant herself while her husband struggled with cancer and its after-effects.

She said when her husband got sick, she made the commitment to keep both him and the restaurant going.

Tae Mo Kim, who tended the garden that provided produce for the restaurant, “still isn’t too well, but he is living, and that encourages me,” she said.

Yisoon said she appreciated all the support from her loyal customers over the past nearly four decades, and she is confident the Lins will continue her culinary legacy, including her famed chicken soup.

“They’ve been making it, and people have told me that they can’t taste any difference between my soup and theirs,” she said. “The customers are very happy, and it’s good to see them so happy,” she said.

The Kims still own the building where Shin-La is located. The Lins have a five-year lease on the restaurant space and access to Yisoon’s institutional memory.

And now that the business is in good hands, Yisoon said she hopes to do some traveling with her family and start enjoying having some more free time in her life.

Very few restaurants in Brattleboro have managed to last as long as Shin-La, and Yisoon knows why.

“Chinese food is everywhere, and everyone knows about it,” she said. “Not as many people know about Korean cooking, but it’s getting more popular.”

“I started out making the food my mother made, and people liked it. Then we added a sushi bar, and people liked that, too,” she said.

“We kept the menu simple, and we worked hard to keep up the quality.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #508 (Wednesday, May 1, 2019). This story appeared on page C1.

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