Meet Seo Yang: 23-year old restauranteur and virtual brand master

We caught up with Rice Baby’s Seo Yang to talk about virtual brands, ghost kitchens, and modifiers in the delivery space.

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Seo Yang is the owner of Rice Baby: a Korean delivery-only restaurant that specializes in healthy, customizable rice bowls. At only 23, Seo has already begun to make a name for herself as a successful chef and food entrepreneur. In addition to Rice Baby, Seo uses her ghost kitchen space to operate multiple virtual brands. Not only does she develop her menus and cook all the food herself—but she also runs the operations side of things. Keep reading to learn more about how Seo succeeds in delivery.

How did you get started in the restaurant business?

My first job ever was at a restaurant back in Boston when I was 15 years old. After helping another restaurant open up a few different locations, I thought, “I’d love to try something similar, but more streamlined.” My friend told me about the ghost kitchen concept, and I was like: “Oh my god! I have to do this!” So I spent some time brainstorming what my own restaurant might be like, and now, at 23, I’ve opened Rice Baby along with other virtual restaurant brands.

On combining her heritage cuisine with the personalized, build-your-own food trend

I thought about the kind of food that I grew up eating and what I look for when I get takeout. I grew up making and eating Korean food, but I always wanted to have the option to modify it to make it my own. I love the customization aspect that modern quick-service restaurants like Sweetgreen and Chipotle offer because I know that I’m getting exactly what I want! I built the brand off of the food I grew up on + modern customization elements.

Creating a Korean food concept in Miami was kind of scary – there’s not a huge Korean scene here. But I thought I might be able to use that to my advantage. I built out a simple menu, and gave customers the ability to customize their food. That way, they know that they can familiarize themselves with the ingredients in Korean cuisine while getting exactly what they want. Our personalization options make Rice Baby different from other businesses in Miami, and people really like it!

I spent a lot of time in my apartment testing recipes.I cook all the food myself – I weigh and assess my ingredient lists and calculate my menus’ potential costs and profits. I’m always looking for ways to improve my menus to increase my margins.

We launched this July. In addition to Rice Baby, I also run eight virtual brands, including Fat Dumpling, Bao Bao, and Krispy Rolls.

On the hardest and best parts of her job

[Laughs.] I don’t know! It’s all hard. The obvious hard thing is brand visibility – when you’re delivery-only, no one’s going to walk in and see your branding. Social media marketing is hard, too – it’s hard to convert words into sales. Branding is super important, though! I’m hoping to have more time in the future to focus on social media.

The best part of my job is probably not working for anyone. At my other jobs, I always saw opportunities for improvement, but I couldn’t implement changes. Now that I work for myself, I can handle things the way I want to!

On what small businesses should consider when it comes to running virtual brands

Keep things super streamlined and simple. Keep your ingredients list small. Master and standardize your recipes. If you plan on growing, be sure that others can understand and execute your processes, too. Virtual brands are all about maximizing kitchen space, so keep things manageable. Remember: Less is more!

“Partnering with Otter made it easy to build out my menus. I think it’s really cool to consolidate all my information into one system that can publish it to multiple brands. You can have as many brands as you want, and it’s very easy to use! You don’t have to be super tech-savvy to use Otter, and it’s very customizable.”

On labeling her restaurant brands as “virtual” or not

When I first started, I wasn’t sure what to put on my site. I decided to keep [Rice Baby being a delivery-only brand] low-key and see my customers’ responses. I remember reading a review where the customer loved my food, who didn’t even know it was delivery-only. They were like, “this tastes amazing and so homemade.” I loved that review! As long as the food’s good, I don’t think customers care about whether it’s from a virtual brand.

On how Otter helps keep Rice Baby running smoothly

“No one else works in the ghost kitchen space the way that Otter does, so you’re the only option! Otter integrates with every delivery partner you need, and it’s very easy to use. I check my Insights dashboard every hour – it’s a good way to track performance when you have multiple brands.”

You can see how each brand is doing and create new ones! That was really useful. So was the ability to see which items and promotions performed well or not. Should I run a certain discount or make an item in a different way if they aren’t doing well? For example, my spicy chicken bowl does really well. But if I saw that my crispy rolls were doing well on their own, I’d think “why don’t I just add them as a category to another brand?”

Otter is really good for small business owners. You can make changes immediately from your phone! It doesn’t interfere with your employees workflow either.

On where she sees herself in 5 years

I can see myself franchising some of my current virtual brands to other operators. I want to make the operational side of my business super simple, and to keep making easy food concepts. I’ve learned that you can’t just rely on your own employees’ skills – you have to make sure that knowledge is standardized across all of your locations.

I put a lot of thought into operating so that growing my business shouldn’t be too challenging. Right now, I’m working on a book of knowledge – like what Chipotle does – that I can hand off to other managers and franchisees. I’d love to help other restaurateurs standardize their operations, too!

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