This interview has been edited for clarity.
I’m on TikTok because … I have teenage daughters and they said, “You should do TikTok videos.” I’ve been making videos since I was 14, on VHS tape and stuff like that. I started making coffee videos on TikTok and thought to myself, “This is my daily job. It’s boring. ”I started to be more focused and more intentional.
Having run cafes for 20 years … I’ve learned that there is an interesting relationship between what people want and what do you give them? This has always been an interesting idea for Trish and I: instead of trying to figure out what our coffee philosophy, our profile and our aesthetic would be, and whether we start with the question, “What do people want?” when they want coffee? “No,“ What are they asking? ”No,“ What are they saying they want? ”
When I opened my first café in 2002 … I remember spending the extra energy trying to make my mom a really good latte. After she left, I was thinking, why did I make this special for her, like, not everyone deserves so much care? Although capitalism and commerce have commodified the gesture, giving someone something to eat or drink is really an act of love, at its core.
Your Korean dad is from … realizing that the viewer should be the main character. I’m Korean, I’m a dad, and like a lot of dads, I’m trying to figure out what it means to be a dad. But “your” is perhaps the most important part – which I thus offer myself to the viewer. When you say that you are the father of such and such, you are subordinate in the narrative.
The first Korean daddy video to explode was … a trip to Walgreens for snacks. It was really unexpected, and actually, to be honest, a little shocking at first. That’s when I had duets of kids crying while watching my video. There are a lot of tears in the audience when they engage with me.
People have emotional relationships with food … especially when it comes to parents. With dads we are talking about one person – sometimes two or three – for any individual, so the crux of that relationship is heartbreaking. Even when the relationship is going well, it can be bittersweet. When it is a failure or when there is a mixture of pain and trauma, it is a lot for a person.
I think about what it really means to be healthy … in a way that centers the child. For me, it’s ultimately about what’s healthy psychologically and emotionally, as well as physically. I almost return some incidental messages: “No, you don’t have to finish the hot dog,” then I try to move on. The idea of “finishing your plate” is such a loaded subject, from an individual’s relationship to food to their relationship to family and culture.
The banality is the deep part … for many people. I did a second Walgreens video and it was to go get tampons, with the idea that it was okay for a daddy. I try to find opportunities to model behavior that is going to mean something to people and make a statement, even if it’s a little more secret than open.
Managing young people in their twenties in cafes … helped me refine my parenting style. I think I am a good father; my kids seem to think so. We don’t have the kind of bickering relationship that some children have with their parents. They are never like “I hate you”. We never fought. Sometimes it’s too perfect.
My number one job as a parent and, for that matter, as a manager is … to always build trust and never to break trust. Once you break it, you can’t really put it back together the same way. But it can also make you almost like a turtle in a shell: afraid to do anything in case you are wrong. There’s that sweetness and reluctance to go with it, and I know that’s not being a good father. One of the things I want to be able to do is challenge people, but in a way that they’re totally capable of being challenged.