City of Sydney Retail Innovation Program Alumni

SOUL Dining

Contemporary Korean cuisine that fills the soul

SOUL Dining is a contemporary Korean restaurant in the heart of Sydney’s Surry Hills. Started by husband and wife owners Illa Kim and Daero Lee, SOUL serves up uniquely Korean dishes made with modern Australian techniques and has quickly won its way into the hearts of food enthusiasts across the city.

“There are lots of traditional Korean restaurants in Sydney, but there is no contemporary or modern Korean influence in the Sydney or Australian culinary scenes,” says Illa.

Illa and Daero had many opportunities that they wanted to explore for their business but weren’t sure which ones to prioritise. They joined the City of Sydney Retail Innovation Program hoping to validate and test new ideas. Work was already in progress when COVID-19 lockdowns were enacted, forcing the restaurant, and many others, to temporarily close their doors.

With the support of the program and feedback from their fellow participants, SOUL Dining pivoted quickly, launching a successful delivery sub-brand called BOWL by SOUL, in just one week. They also set up a new web site and social media channels. Three weeks in, the pair had already exceeded their sales targets for the new brand.

“We knew takeaway was our only option to survive, but our contemporary food couldn’t be experienced in the same way in a takeaway container and with the cut that delivery partners take, it didn’t seem viable. The program provided a framework to help us prioritise our focus. Instead of just shutting down, we redirected our team’s energies and ideas to develop BOWL by SOUL – a fresh take on Korean comfort food,” said Kim.

Through the program, Illa and Daero were able to turn Covid restrictions into a new business opportunity. The new BOWL by SOUL concept was such a hit that they are working to find a separate location for it.

“This program helped us survive the lockdown. Using what we learned, we could validate our ideas and make decisions faster and bring a completely new concept to life, and get valuable feedback from peers; it’s gave me perspective, comfort and a shoulder to cry on when times were tough.”

Illa KimOwner, SOUL Dining & BOWL by SOUL