In her native South Korea, Ellia Park’s childhood was brightened by the feasts prepared by her mother and grandmother, which were “marked by freshly cooked rice and carefully made guk and banchan, alongside a protein such as just-grilled fish,” she recalls. “The mundane, yet beautiful conversations we shared over these warm meals—the lessons I learned about home life and love—are the ones I think of fondly.”
Soulful, personal interpretations of Korean recipes are fittingly the foundation of Atoboy and Atomix, the first two New York restaurants that Ellia founded along with her husband, the James Beard Award-winning chef Junghyun Park, who goes by JP. The most recent additions to their collection are the Two Point Zero-designed Seoul Salon—a casual Koreatown hangout centered on cocktails and bar snacks in partnership with Hand Hospitality—and Naro, an ode to Korea’s culinary history at Rockefeller Center.
Naro’s presence in such a prominent location certainly puts the spotlight on Korea, not only through the menu but the design. Crafted by Seoul-based Studio Writers (the team also designed Atomix), it’s a sleek, monochromatic space that evokes Korea by way of a custom wallcovering nodding to traditional paper, a celestial map enveloping the ceiling portraying the myriad agricultural seasons, and minimalist acrylic works by Seoul artist Rahee Yoon. “The design of a restaurant begins through its cuisine, continues with the service style, and comes together to form a personality,” says Ellia.
The Parks, who now run NA:EUN Hospitality, have long understood the importance of making such a strong, cohesive impression. They initially headed to New York for JP’s job at Korean restaurant Jungsik, but Ellia quickly forged a restaurant career of her own in the front of house, so both were well-primed to open Atoboy in 2016. “In this city, there are countless restaurants, and the competition is more fierce than anywhere else. Yet, this is also an opportune place to shine,” Ellia says. “As I worked my way through my first few jobs in different restaurants, I was able to think deeply about what makes [our] identity unique—our Korean upbringing and memories—and combine them with our work ethic and skillsets.”
That distinctive approach is fueled by Ellia and JP’s balanced relationship. “We have always been careful to respect boundaries, roles, and each other’s responsibilities and ambitions as individuals. This is how we have been able to grow together and achieve together while remaining partners in all aspects of life,” Ellia says.
As a student and aspiring restaurateur, Ellia read Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table and was “amazed that he was able to achieve success in business while building on the philosophy of having a positive influence. This is no easy feat,” Ellia says.
In many ways, Ellia and JP are only getting started on their mission to acquaint the wider public with the splendors of Korean cooking via engaging hospitality and a fresh perspective. “Only a sliver of our rich Korean culture has been delivered to the world at large,” Ellia adds. “There is so much to discover. There is so much potential.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s July 2023 issue.