Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the family behind Koreatown’s beloved Jun Won Restaurant, which closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is getting a second chance at starting over. Within the next two weeks, owners Jeff Jun and his mother Jung Ye Jun will debut an extension of their former restaurant, which had been open for 26 years, in the form of a takeout spot with a new name that’s primarily focused on chicken.
Jun Won Dak (“dak” is Korean for “chicken”), an 800-square-foot restaurant at 4254 1/2 West Third Street in Koreatown, will mostly be a kitchen with three seats for those who want to dine in. This new iteration will start off serving four dishes, with the potential to grow in the future. One of its specialties is the matriarch’s samgye-tang, a Korean comfort soup that utilizes a whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and boiled alongside a satchel of ginseng, garlic, and jujubes (Chinese red dates). The result is incredibly tender chicken in a broth that’s savory and warming, and believed to have nourishing health benefits.
“My mom always said, ‘Before I die, I would love to do a samgye-tang place,” Jeff says. “She’s 75 years old, so what’s there to lose, right? [I told her,] ‘Let’s do what you want to do and let’s be satisfied [in life].’”
The original Jun Won Restaurant had been a haven for homestyle dishes like bossam (sliced pork lettuce wraps) and spicy braised black cod. When it closed, it was partly because the dishes didn’t transfer well to a takeout format, something that has become a necessity in the pandemic era. MAMA, an LA-based organization that uplifts underrepresented immigrant-run restaurants, made a push to help the Jun Won family by telling their story on its social media platforms and selling their samgye-tang at events.
“We’re so thankful that they got involved and reached out to people who wanted our food,” Jeff says, adding that it was a huge help to their business.
The samgye-tang had taken off so much that the Jun family began selling large orders from their home to longtime customers and friends. The feedback was so positive that it convinced Jeff he should reopen Jun Won with samgye-tang as the main draw.
Given Jun Won Dak’s focus on poultry, the new restaurant will also offer items like dakdoritang, a spicy stew with chicken and vegetables; and a chicken version of yukgaejang, a slow-simmered spicy soup with a viscous broth that’s normally made with shredded beef. Jeff also wants to include his mother’s galbi-jjim (braised short ribs) to give customers another protein option.
The fact that Jun Won Dak will be serving dakdoritang links it in a way to the space’s former tenants, Samga Chicken, which had been a popular restaurant known for its dakdoritang for more than 30 years. When Samga Chicken closed earlier this year, the owner of another Koreatown restaurant, Yuk Dae Jang, took over the space as a central kitchen before passing the torch to the Jun family.
It’s a sign of new beginnings: Not owning a brick-and-mortar business for the last two years has been tough on Jeff, who likened it to “resting on a bed of thorns.” He says, “I was a person that used to continuously run around all the time, and all of a sudden I was just sitting around and hating it. And now that we have something going, I’m so excited and looking forward to it.” His mother is ecstatic too.
Follow Jun Won on Instagram for updates on its opening date and hours.