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Maryland Korean Way Opening Cultural Doors

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Andrew Yang has a ready way of describing the level of awareness people have for Korean culture and contributions in his neighborhood.

“You always see the movie ‘The Karate Kid,’ but never ‘The Tae Kwon Do Kid,’” he said. “People tend to group the Asian martial arts into one big category.”

So a year ago, Yang set out to change that issue by opening JS Taekwondo, a studio in Ellicott City where he teaches an art of self-defense that originated in Korea more than 2,000 years ago. The name is self-descriptive: “tae,” meaning “foot,” “kwon” meaning “hand” and, perhaps the most important syllable, “do,” meaning “the way.”

To Yang, “do,” means a way of life. “As a Korean, it’s an honor for me to introduce my home country’s martial art to people in this area. It’s part of Korean culture and history.”

Yang’s is one among many businesses included on a new website, MarylandKoreanWay.com, which is designed to promote cultural, dining and recreation experiences along a five-mile stretch of Baltimore National Pike, from Normandy Plaza to Turf Valley. The roadway was designated the “Korean Way” in 2016 by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The website is part of the Maryland’s Korean Way Culture Trail, which was officially launched on May 1 by Visit Howard County, in partnership with the Korean Society of Maryland. On the site, visitors can find information about more than a dozen businesses; the site’s creators anticipate business listings on the site will grow as the brand gains popularity in an area with a burgeoning Korean population.

By Koreans, for All

Many Korean business owners want to be sure consumers know that their food, activities and products are available to all cultures and people, not just fellow Koreans.

“I moved here, near St. John’s Lane, eight years ago,” said Yang, “and it definitely wasn’t the Korean community that brought me here. It’s just a great neighborhood. And most of my students are not actually Korean.”

Eventually, he said, maybe people will consider Korean food the same way they do Italian food. “It’s for everyone, not just Koreans or Italians. Especially in recent generations, we are becoming more mixed.”

At Cafe EZ, owner Katie Han echoed Yang’s observations about the thriving area. “It’s just a great location, right next to the highway, assorted business complexes and a big Walmart,” she said. “Ninety-nine percent of my customers are American.”

A Taste of Korea

The Tous Les Jours Bakery offers Korean-style baked pancake bread, with honey and almonds; a strawberry-infused “pink milk bread”; cream-filled Korean milk bread with edible vanilla bean morsels; and many more treats, arranged carefully in display cases that bring happy exclamations from visitors.

The bakery hosted a kickoff event last month to announce Maryland’s Korean Way Culture Trail. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and his wife, Korean-American artist Yumi Hogan, were among those invited. Tous Les Jours, which means “every day” in French, is part of a South Korean bakery franchise owned by a company based in Seoul.
Tous Les Jours is one of more than 166 Korean-owned businesses in Howard County, which is double the percentage of Asian-owned businesses in the rest of Maryland.

In Maryland, the Asian community makes up about 6% of the total population, while in Ellicott City that number is around 24%, according to the most recent census data. Between 2009 and 2014, the Korean population jumped by 30%.

‘Spread That Love’

That growth may be reflected in the popularity of the restaurant Honey Pig, which offers traditional Korean barbecue with tabletop grilling — or it just may be that good food that attracts all cultures. Honey Pig has been in Ellicott City for almost a decade, said spokesperson Hanna Kuark.

“We are very proud to say that we are known as the Korean-American owned business in Howard County,” said Kuark. “What started as a small family business has turned into a female-owned corporation that employs more than 200 people beyond Howard County. Our main goals have always been to spread Korean culture through our love of food. We are very happy to be in Howard County to continue our goals of spreading that love.”

At Visit Howard County, the staff is hoping that love spreads and the Maryland Korean Way inspires consumers to enjoy some new experiences, while boosting area businesses.

“The Maryland Korean Way brand was created to be a source of inspiration when it comes to the different culinary and recreational experiences,” said Amanda Hof, director of tourism development for Visit Howard County. The office hopes area residents “will visit MarylandKoreanWay.com to discover new restaurants and fun things to do.”