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Koreana on Feb. 21. Credit: Isabella Cossu

Koreana, a campus restaurant staple with a 15-year legacy, will close its doors on April 17. 

The family-owned restaurant, located on 38th and Chestnut streets, is known for its traditional Korean dishes. The restaurant block, which also houses Abner’s Cheesesteaks, was purchased by Chicago-based companies Sterling Bay and Harrison Street and New York City-based company Botanic Properties. The block is expected to be rebuilt into a new high-tech office and lab space in early 2023. 

Mike Choi and Emma Aing, the married couple who own the restaurant, said they discovered in December 2021 that Koreana's lease would not be renewed. The couple is now actively searching for a new location for the restaurant in University City. 

“It’s very sad, but hey, you know, things go on. My wife and I are dealing with it,” Choi told The Daily Pennsylvanian. “We actually love having business here because we have so many good students, and good customers.”

This is not the first time that the restaurant's property was being considered to be purchased. Choi told the DP that Penn was interested in buying the property around 10 years ago, but ultimately, the purchase did not come to fruition. Penn’s lingering interest in the restaurant block kept the building’s landlord from renewing a lease longer than a year for the past seven years, according to Choi. 

Ted Pagano, the block's former owner, also told the DP in 2018 that he conducted several conversations with parties that were interested in buying the property.

According to Choi, the process to find a new location has not been easy, as prices for retail spaces during the pandemic have increased. Choi said he has been exploring a number of relocation options — including reopening near Drexel and finding a space at a food court. 

The restaurant has been a go-to eatery for many Penn students over the years. 

After hearing about Koreana’s imminent closure, a recent Engineering graduate offered the owners a personal loan of $40,000 to aid in developing the restaurant’s new location. The Penn graduate, who requested anonymity in fear of judgement from his peers, said he has enjoyed eating at the restaurant since his first year at Penn. He said he became acquainted with the owners over the course of his undergraduate career at the University. 

“The thing about these restaurants is the initial investment is a lot. I wanted to see if I could help out in some way, and I had some cash laying around from my bonus,” he said. 

Aing said she cried upon hearing about the Penn graduate's offer. According to the former Penn student, however, Choi and Aing did not accept his loan offer.

Andrew Yoon, a junior in the College, said he has loved eating at Koreana ever since his first visit to Penn when he was in high school. 

“I was really grateful for it to be there because it was kind of like the only source of authentic Korean cuisine within walking distance,” Yoon said. “I'm honestly scared about senior year because I feel like I've never had to worry about not having Korean cuisine in my life until now.”

Several Koreana customers also sent emails to University City District’s Small Business Services, a free program for local small businesses, upon hearing of the news of Koreana’s terminating lease. They requested SBS to help Koreana find a new home, UCD Project Manager Ryan Spak said. 

Spak and Koreana’s owners have had several meetings to date, assessing the owner’s goals during the transition and what kind of assets would be needed to restart the business. Spak has also introduced the owners to several landlords and will form connections with attorneys or commercial leasing agents.  

The Penn graduate who offered Koreana's owners a loan said he hopes to eat at Koreana again prior to the restaurant's closure. 

He added that, as an international student, he likes Koreana because it reminds him of home. 

“It is a family business, and the food reflects it," he said. "I like [Koreana] because it resembles the restaurants that I used to go to in India. It is a family-feeling kind of shop.”