“It’s a love story as old as time: Boys meet chicken, boys fall in love with chicken, boys open fried chicken shop in Chicago.” This is the tale of 10Q Chicken as told by founders and childhood friends David Yoo and Will Song. After years of practicing law throughout Asia, David returned to the U.S. and reunited with Will, who was already busy in the food-and-beverage industry as founder of Chicago’s American-Korean fusion restaurant, bopNgrill. Sharing an obsession with fried chicken, the duo decided to take on this American staple but with a twist—creating their own version of Korean-influenced chicken wings and sandwiches.
In late 2018, 10Q Chicken opened its first location in Evanston, followed by a second location in downtown Chicago in early 2020. The business is a fusion of the two friends’ backgrounds, cultures, and adventures. Especially known for its special homemade sauces that elevate the classics, 10Q has become a go-to spot for Evanston residents. To hear more about the evolution of this Chicagoland favorite, we spoke with David about his past experiences, the secret behind 10Q’s success, and how being Korean American has shaped his entrepreneurial journey.
How did you become a restaurateur?
I actually used to be a corporate lawyer, so that was my first career path. I practiced in New York and then Asia. I came back to the States about six years ago to take over a family business. There was a clothing boutique called the Belmont Army in the Lakeview neighborhood, but we sold the building. One of my friends, Will Song, had a restaurant business there called bopNgrill. It’s similar to 10Q in that we’re taking an American staple, like the chicken sandwich, and giving our own twist on it. That’s what he was doing with bopNgrill and burgers. We started talking and thought it’d be a good idea to do something together, to start a different concept together.
There were a few ideas that we had in mind. We knew we wanted to do something that reflected our backgrounds, our experiences growing up, and the time I spent living in Asia. Eventually, we settled on fried chicken because that’s something that we both love and thought we could do pretty well. We did a lot of research. We went to a few different cities, spent some time in Seoul and Japan,just getting the lay of what people were doing with fried chicken.
How did the idea of adding a special touch to American staples come to be?
Both of us are Korean Americans and come from first-generation immigrant families. Both of our parents were born in Seoul and moved here as adults like a lot of Korean Americans. We were both born in the U.S., but we grew up eating Korean food in the household. And obviously since we grew up in the U.S.,we also ate fried chicken, chicken tenders, and sandwiches. That was just as much comfort food to us as the Korean food we ate growing up. So we wanted to do something where we can combine the two types of cuisine that meant home for us.
Before I moved back to Chicago, I was in Korea for about five years. There’s good Korean food in the U.S., but it doesn’t compare to what’s out there in terms of quality, breadth, and variety. There’s even regional Korean cooking that you can find all around Korea that you can’t find anywhere in the U.S. Food has also been a passion of mine. I spent a lot of time traveling, eating out there mainly as a fan of Korean food and someone who loves to eat. A lot of those experiences informed our menu, the ingredients, and the techniques that we use in our cooking as well.
What else has made 10Q successful?
I think part of the reason is we really strive to give good customer service. We try to make sure people feel welcome when they’re there. We try to make sure the food is always prepared fresh and quickly. And we’re part of Evanston and the community. We take that to heart as a neighborhood restaurant. It’s good to get reviews, especially from people outside of the Evanston area, but first and foremost, we want to be able to serve the Evanston community. That’s our focus. We try to be mindful and accessible as a community restaurant.
In terms of our food, although we do basic staples, we try to do it better. For all of our chicken, we brine it at least 24 hours in buttermilk. Our sauces are all housemade. We’re not trying to be avant-garde cooking—it’s just about the little things that we can try to elevate.
How do you train your staff to deliver great customer service?
Essentially the general manager. His name is Andrew Oh, and he already has that personality—there are some people who are born to be hospitality-type people, and then we pass on to him what our values are and what we want him to focus on. Obviously operations are the most important, but if there is a “1b,” it would be customer service. A lot of the Northwestern student organizations and sporting teams come in—things like knowing who the regulars are, their names, which teams they play for, their orders, etc. You just put a little bit of extra effort in, but I think to the community, it makes a big difference in terms of how they feel and that experience that they have.
How has your background influenced your journey as a restaurant owner?
Food is so personal. It’s what you grow up with, what brings back memories of your childhood, what brings you comfort. You can’t separate that from me as an Asian American—the food that I ate, the kind of upbringing that I had with Asian immigrant parents. We don’t want to be known as just a Korean restaurant, but we’re not a typical American restaurant either. We want it to reflect both sides of our backgrounds and our experiences growing up, which influenced the way we approached the menu and how we created a concept.
And to be part of the general trend with Korean restaurants becoming more mainstream… sharing a little bit of our culture and our food with people who might not have ever experienced it before, and they become fans of the food. Through that, maybe they become fans of the culture and want to know more about, “Hey, what is Korean culture? What is their food life? What is the country like? What are the people like?” Being part of that general movement that I think we’ve seen in the U.S. over the last 10 years has been really important to us as well.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Generally speaking, regardless of what you’re trying to do, you have to run a good operation. You have to understand the numbers and run everything well fundamentally. Without that, it doesn’t matter how good your food is, how good your concept is, or how much hyper buzz you get. If you can’t sustain a good business operation month over month, year over year, you’re most likely not going to make it.
From an Asian-American perspective, just try to be authentic—not in terms of being an Asian or your particular ethnicity per se—but to your own experiences, what you know, and what you grew up with. I think that is the most important thing. At least for us, it was. We weren’t just trying to run random Asian concepts or ingredients into menu items. It was a thoughtful process based on the kind of food we wanted to eat and grew up with and how to reflect that experience most authentically.
What’s next for 10Q?
Generally, we do want to expand. We’re not trying to open up as many locations as we possibly can. We really like what we have in Evanston, being a solid neighborhood-community restaurant. The next place I would love to open up is in Hyde Park. It’s similar in terms of demographics. You have the university, a very tight-knit, long-standing community. Also, I went to law school at the University of Chicago, so that’s near and dear to my heart as well.