Celebs build safety net in cafe, restaurant business

By Hong Dam-young

Published : Sep 14, 2017 - 17:23
Updated : Sep 14, 2017 - 17:23

Cao Lu,of popular K-pop girl group Fiestar, recently said in a TV show that she hopes to one day open her own store as a side business, confessing even celebrities suffer from financial difficulties and uncertainties. 

Many celebrities in Korea recently have talked about their struggles with fluctuating income and unsteady employment, even referring to themselves as “nonregular workers.”

Whether as an investment for the future or out of pure interest in the business, celebrities are venturing into starting enterprises outside the familiar terrain of showbiz, with many morphing into cafe owners and restaurateurs or launching their own brands to bank on their celebrity status.

Yoo Yeon-seok poses at a rooftop in Lua Lounge (Kingkong by Starship)


People may flock to star-owned places with hopes of getting a glimpse of their favorite stars. We should all be so lucky, but one can at least take solace in the fact the space bears the star‘s unique touch.

Art project

Actor Yoo Ah-in developed his passion into a full-blown art project, opening a cultural complex in Hannam-dong, Seoul, in 2015.  Studio Concrete, housed in a remodeled three-floor red brick and concrete building, is an embodiment of Yoo’s enthusiasm for art. It has a gallery, art shop and a coffeehouse, allowing customers to have drinks and enjoy art exhibitions at the same time all under one roof.

“We usually display works by innovative and creative artists, which is a part of Yoo’s business guideline for Concrete Studio. Yoo is very much engaged in his business, such as selecting which artists to collaborate with. This place is not just an ordinary coffee shop,” said Yi Da-mee, Studio Concrete manager. 

Studio Concrete (Studio Concrete)


Art enthusiast Yoo told media outlets in the past that he aimed to demolish the wall between art and public through Concrete Studio, and that he had been dreaming about opening a “cultural playground” since his early 20s, even before he started his acting career.

Yoo Yeon-seok is an actor with an entrepreneurial spirit. His interest in port wine led him to open a wine bar called “Lua Lounge” in Itaewon, a hub for nightlife in Seoul, a year and a half ago. The beloved “Reply 1994” actor decided to open a lounge serving port after traveling to Portugal -- “Lua” means “moon” in Portuguese. The three-floor lounge extends from the sixth floor all the way to the rooftop, where visitors can enjoy the breeze, moonlight and nighttime view of Itaewon with a glass of port. 

Lua Lounge (Kingkong by Starship)


The romantic and artsy interior of the lounge reveals the artistic sensibilities of the actor, who selected the furniture, wallpaper and ornaments for the space. A special feature of the lounge is a room where people can watch movies while drinking wine.

Celeb entrepreneurs

Other celebrities turned entrepreneurs include Jo Kwon of K-pop boy band 2AM, who is the CEO of a cereal shop called “Midnight in Seoul” in Nonhyeon-dong, and Big Bang’s G-Dragon, who runs a glass-walled coffee shop on Jeju Island.

Celebrities investing in second gigs are often motivated by pragmatic concerns. As actor Kim Min-kyo once said on air, celebrities are not full-time workers and many seek other steady sources of income.  

A cereal bar at Midnight in Seoul (By Hong Dam-young / The Korea Herald)


“Since celebs are their own brands, many follow the footsteps of fellow celebrities and choose to run their own business. It can also vitalize their activities as celebrities,” said pop culture critic Lim Jin-mo.

While many business ventures by entertainers ended up failures due to a lack of sound business plan, Lim said more and more celebrities will seek ways to get involved in business in the future.

“Over time, celebs have become keen on money management and business skills. A group of such celeb-entrepreneurs will continue to grow with the help of the accumulated data base and past experiences,” Lim said. 

By Hong Dam-young (lotus@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation