In a season of change for Koreatown, one of the neighborhood’s most respected restaurants quietly closed in January 2023. Jeon Ju, which first opened in 1997 and served one of the best stone pot bibimbap in Los Angeles, shuttered after 25 years of business, owner Jennifer Lee tells Eater. “People have been coming here for over 20 years. They came with their kids and then they grew up,” says Lee. “I didn’t earn much money, but I did it for my pride and prove to myself that I could do it even though it was so hard.” Lee’s parents, Donald Lee and Young Hee Park, opened the Olympic Boulevard restaurant in 1997 and operated it until 2005 when Park passed away.
In addition to bibimbap, Jeon Ju was well known for preparations of eundaegu joorim (soy-braised codfish), galbi, tteok mandu guk (rice cake and dumpling soup), and multiple jjigae (stews). Mad Men actress Kiernan Shipka was one of the restaurant’s most ardent supporters through the years, posting its food regularly on her popular Instagram.
Lee told Eater that Jeon Ju initially shut down at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic but eventually reopened for takeout and on-site dining. But without a liquor license to generate more revenue, the restaurant never fully recovered and found itself unable to raise prices to compensate for higher costs and short-handed due to older staff hesitant to return to work. The restaurant’s rent was $6,500 a month at the time of its closure, which only made the economics of the restaurant more difficult.
While Lee worked hard to build the business back to its pre-pandemic levels, she faced burnout which further contributed to the decision to close. The space has since converted into Bap & Bap, a restaurant serving a similar menu of bibimbap, grilled fish, and noodles.
“I did all the work until the end,” Lee says. “I wanted to sell Jeon Ju to a new owner but people don’t want a small restaurant because it’s too much work and you have to work so hard.” Lee does not have plans to return to the restaurant business in the future.