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Penn State Alumni-Owned Philly Cheesesteak Shop Opens In South Korea

Two Penn State graduates recently opened a cheesesteak joint right in the heart of Seoul, South Korea, to combine their love of Dear Old State and the classic Philadelphia sandwich all in one.

After meeting at University Park, Adam Choi and Henry Jeong opened their shop, Philadelphia Garosu, this January. It’s located in “the Manhattan of Seoul” known as Garosu-gil in the city’s Gangnam district.

“We couldn’t find a good, good, Philly cheesesteak store,” Choi said. “We thought, ‘Why isn’t this in Gangnam?'”

Jeong says he fell in love with junk food, including cheesesteaks, when he studied in America.

“Obviously — Who doesn’t like cheesesteak?” he said.

Even though they first needed to initially explain what cheesesteaks were to some customers, the shop is doing quite well and showing off their Penn State pride. They often showed the concept through pictures on their Instagram page, explaining that it is indeed a sandwich.

“We are introducing [cheesesteaks] to customers that don’t know, and the vibe we are presenting, Philadelphia, is going pretty well,” Choi said.

Both Choi and Jeong loved their time at Penn State and knew that people in Seoul would benefit from some of the American spirits that comforted them on campus. The shop is located in the middle of Gangnam district, where the population is trendy and rent is expensive.

“We picked this place because it’s for a lot of hipsters,” Choi said. “It is basically a fashion district where a lot of good brands are located…We can actually represent Philadelphia well.”

They make the shop as authentic as possible, playing rap and R&B music strictly from Philly. To further set the scene of a Philly staple, a big Penn State flag is hung on the wall next to portraits of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 1980s superstars and pennants of local teams.

The whole space looks like it could be straight out of a local bar back in the United States. Even other Philly schools like Temple and Penn (not Penn State) are represented.

Courtesy of Philadelphia Garosu

Jeong and Choi purposely kept the walls looking like plywood to capture the “U.S. basement vibe.” The two friends wanted “nothing fancy” and boasted that everything in plywood is just so comfy.

Rated 4.9 stars on Google and among the top tier on Navar, the commonly used app for rating restaurants in South Korea, the shop is constantly growing. That’s partially thanks to strong support from Nittany Lions across the globe.

“When we first opened the store, 90% of our customers were Penn State alumni,” said Jeong.

Now, flags from colleges around the United States are hung in Philadelphia Garosu alongside everything Penn State and Philadelphia.

“Other Korean international students from all over the U.S. started bringing their own school flags,” Choi said.

To ensure that the shop serves the best cheesesteaks possible, Jeong and Choi bake the shop’s hoagie rolls each morning and get their beer from Penn State alumni.

Courtesy of Yongseok Ghymn

Their friend and former Philly resident, YK Min, helped them plan and design the restaurant. Min runs his own cheesesteak shop in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, and has been serving the Philly staple for more than 10 years.

Starting such a business venture on the other side of the globe was a daunting challenge for Jeong and Choi. They say support from Penn State’s vast alumni base has made the entire effort possible.

“So much love is from Penn State alumni,” Jeong said. “The school pride never goes anywhere — even if it’s in Korea.”

“It’s truly an honor to represent Penn State on the other side of the globe,” Choi added.

Courtesy of Yongseok Ghymn

The store’s owners urge everyone to come to hang out and try the cheesesteaks, and they hope that Philadelphia Garosu can be a hub for everyone to join together and relive their college days.

Despite thousands of miles separating them from University Park, the two owners said that they hear the “We Are” chant constantly in South Korea. While it might be surprising to hear, Jeong and Choi say it makes them even prouder to be Penn State graduates.

“If you are a Penn Stater in Korea, please do not hesitate and come to our store. We will give you free beer!” Jeong said.

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About the Author

Alexandra Pepe

Alex is a sophomore from New Canaan, CT, pursuing the Master's of Accounting program and minoring in both journalism and entrepreneurship and innovation. She spends most of her free time with friends, watching "Curb Your Enthusiasm", or trying to figure out the buses. Her favorite things are getting breakfast sandwiches on a Sunday morning, listening to new music, and... writing for OS, of course! She can be reached through her email [email protected] or Twitter @aalexpepe.

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