When Eric Kim, owner of K-Peppers in Middleton, arrived in Madison from Korea as an international student in 1998, he found the Korean food scene in the area lacking. By day he studied finance, banking and investing, but in his free time, he dreamed of something different: opening his own Korean restaurant.
Post graduation, life took him back to Korea and the woman who would become his wife, Rachel Lee, eventually marrying her in 2004 and welcoming a son the next year. Just three years later they decided it was time to make their dream a reality and returned to Middleton.
K-Peppers opened a year later in 2009 and has called its corner of Cayuga Court home ever since. K-Peppers is, at its heart, a family business, with Eric’s wife as the chef (he refers to her as a “phenomenal cook,” and their customers agree) and where he is the main server (their son helps from time to time as well).
“I liked the feel of this town. It was quieter. People are nice here, and it’s safe too,” he said.
Before the pandemic struck, their business was mostly all dine-in, and it’s easy to see why. Nothing can replace the experience of enjoying K-Peppers’ signature mouthwatering dish, bibimbap (meat, crispy rice, veggies and an egg), served in a sizzling stone bowl right in front of you. However, when restaurants closed due to the pandemic, Eric and his wife worked to come up with a fast and efficient method of filling their takeout orders.
“We had a good system, we got pretty good at it,” Eric said.
Top-notch service has always been key to the restaurant’s success, and it paid off as customers showed up over and over to support K-Peppers throughout the entire pandemic. They ordered takeout, bought gift certificates, and were generous in their tips.
“Some people are kind of quiet, but then they support us all the time,” he said. “This one gentleman ordered take out, and I delivered the food to his truck, and he tipped me a hundred bucks. He said he really wished we could survive. Those words were touching.”
In return, Eric and Rachel work hard to give their customers the best meal possible, with frequent visits to the market to ensure everything is as fresh as it can be.
“We don’t try to bring people in and just make money off customers. We try to serve the best,” he said.
As for the future, they plan to stay in Middleton and continue serving the folks they’ve come to know as friends, sharing their love of Korean food with customers old and new.
“We hope more people will find Korean food a good option for dining,” Eric said. “It’s well-balanced, healthy, and can be very flavorful and spicy! If you like spicy food, come and enjoy.”
1901 Cayuga Ct., Middleton, WI
Wednesday-Friday: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Tuesday-Saturday: 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m.