After hearing many people talk about and ask him about the sauces and marinades at Urban Belly and Belly Shack, a lightbulb finally went off in Bill Kim's head and an idea was born: He decided to start bottling them.
Kim, along with his wife, Yvonne Cadiz-Kim, have created Urban Belly Foods and the first product they're working on is a still-unnamed soy balsamic. "You can use this as a marinade, a dipping sauce. You can add water or oil and it becomes a dressing. It can be whatever you need it be," Kim said of the soy balsamic, which he uses at Urban Belly. "It's a multi-purpose sauce. I want it to be like ketchup."
Depending on the popularity of that product, they'll do a sambal (more commonly known to the public as Rooster sauce due to the image of a rooster on the bottle) and call it Belly Fire.
Kim said they're still figuring out some logistical things, like bottle size and labeling, and are about two months out from bottling the first batch. He hopes to pass out samples at an event in May to start creating a bit of buzz and then eventually sell the products out of his two restaurants and local shops. He's already talked to The Butcher & Larder, who have said they'd want to sell it; and he has a good relationship with some other spots. Eventually he'd love to get into Whole Foods.
"There's many different Asian vendors at Whole Foods, like Thai Kitchen. What's Thai Kitchen?" he asks somewhat joking. "I'm in awe of what Rick Bayless has done [with his Frontera foods line]. Why can't there be an Asian version of that?"
The Kims partnered with businessman Sean McGrath, who has experience developing products like this, and they've been creating and testing the soy balsamic until it meets Kim's approval. Down the line, if they see success with the initial sauces, Kim said he wants to introduce more sauces (lemongrass marinade, pho broth, chile coriander broth, Thai basil marinade), ramen, udon, rice bowls, marinated meats and more. But Kim is realistic and knows he has to take things one step at a time. "That's all in the process if everything goes right," he said. "But we have to be profitable. I can talk all I want, but if we're not making money, things won't happen."
Kim ultimately wants to help make Asian cooking more accessible to the masses. "I don't want to educate the public, but rather demystify Asian food," Kim said. "I was at a Vietnamese market and there's a whole bunch of Asian people there. When you see non-Asian customers come in, no one is helping them. They feel intimidated. I want to take it to the next step where it's friendly enough so people don't go someplace they're not comfortable."