K-Mama Sauce: A Bridge to Korean Culture
by KC Kye
“How about a hot sauce using gochujang?!” These are the words my pastor and mentor asked me back in 2014, as we thought about a business we could start to fundraise for our multicultural church, Church of All Nations (MN). If you had asked me when I was little what I wanted to be when I grew up, you would have heard me say that I wanted to be rich and, more often, I wanted to be a chef. Though, I don’t consider myself a chef in the typical sense, I would like to think I can cook up some tasty sauce. Let me back up several careers and decades ago, long before K-Mama Sauce was born.
I grew up in a religious family, like many 2nd generation Korean Americans, and my father was a pastor of a start-up immigrant church in New Jersey. I appreciated church, more as a social hub and community center, than for faith or religious reasons. My earliest memories were retreats, summer camps, and volleyball tournaments with my friends from all over northern New Jersey. In high school, I went to church more for friendship and girlfriends than for any other reason. I saw the hypocrisy and judgmental attitude of some Christian churches, especially in Korean American circles, and so I checked out.
My mother, being a devout Christian, and a minister in her own right, pushed me towards full-time ministry once my father passed away during my first year of college. After a “born-again” experience, I straightened out my life and my studies, and I started to consider missions to North Korea while studying at Wheaton College (IL) and Princeton Seminary. It was during my time at Princeton, while working part-time as a Mission Coordinator & Fundraiser for a Korean megachurch, that I gained interest in community outreach & giving back locally. In my final year of seminary, I met my mentor Rev. Dr. Jin S. Kim, and I moved to frigid Minnesota for an internship.
During my first few years, and miserable winters, Pastor Jin gave me the space and freedom to dabble in a variety of conventional ministries: youth, young adults, men’s, praise team. It wasn’t until I looked outside of the church walls that I really get excited: community organizing, government posts, and local politics. Having dove head-first into these spaces, I realized I was not limited as a minister where I was capable of doing work. It was the winter of 2014, Pastor Jin sat me down for a serious conversation about what I wanted to do with my life as I had tried out several career paths. He said straight-forwardly, “You should start a business because that is who you are.”
I never had anyone in my life speak so clearly and poignantly into my soul, and it shook me to the core. Not only did I agree with him, I found new-energy, and purpose in entrepreneurship. It took half an hour of hums and has, and uncomfortable silence to have him say those magic words. “You should start a hot sauce business!”
Every morning I wake up, and I still can’t believe I run a vegan Korean hot sauce business in Minneapolis, MN made from my mother’s recipe. The demographic makeup of MN is mostly Northern European descendants, who think ketchup is spicy. Yet, somehow, we have become a mainstay here in MN, and have started to look towards Chicago and the rest of the Midwest for expansion. Much like any small business, we have had our share of ups and downs, but somehow we ended up with a thriving business even during the COVID19 era.
When we started out in 2015, we sold at farmers markets all across the Twin Cities. It was then we met Korean adoptees, and Korean adoptee parents who loved our sauce and our brand. Quickly, I began to realize my mom’s sauce could be a bridge to those who want a connection to Korean culture and food. I grew up with a deep connection and love with my mother through her delicious homemade food. I was now able to share that with those who were genuinely searching for that same connection to their motherland.
Some of K-Mama Sauce’s earliest advocates were Korean adoptees and their families. Starting from our first farmers market season, we had KADs connect me to fellow KAD friends and family members across the US. I had not received such hospitality and invitation like that before with any affinity group or association whatsoever. Even though I wasn’t a KAD, I was welcomed in to the KAD community with open arms, and I am ever grateful.
After learning more about the KAD diaspora, through KAD individuals and groups, my understanding of the Korean American experience has expanded. I have learned much through KAAN, where we have donated our sauces for their annual conferences, through Hana Center in Chicago, and many other groups.
As K-Mama Sauce searches for partnerships, in both charities and collaborations, we hope to continue deepening the relationship we have with KAD groups and associations throughout the US. Much like Korean Americans, we know that not every KAD will love my mom’s sauces, but we hope that you will be proud of what our brand stands for and represents, a socially-minded business with a deep love for Korea.
KC Kye is the Founder and CEO of K-Mama Sauce. Learn more about KC and K-Mama Sauce by following the links below.
K-Mama Sauce Music Video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjF_uEyK-oc
K-Mama Sauce Review - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvIfIiL-X30
TV Clip of Morning Show Cooking Kalbi - https://cbsloc.al/39y2Y7i
Wheaton (IL) Magazine Feature - https://magazine.wheaton.edu/stories/winter-2018-wheaton-foodies