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Korean food concept sees big potential in U.S.

Bibigo Hot Stone aims to be 'McDonald's of bibimbap,' group says

Widely quoted as saying it hoped to become “the McDonald’s of bibimbap,” Seoul-based foodservice company CJ Foodville launched a new Korean concept in Los Angeles this week that officials say will be the first of 200 to open in the United States over the next five years.

Called Bibigo Hot Stone, the fast-casual restaurant in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, opened Monday and features the traditional Korean dish bibimbap, a combination of rice, vegetables, protein options, and sauces often topped with a fried egg and cooked on a hot stone grill.

Guests have the option of customizing their dishes by choosing the type of grain — white, black or brown rice or barley — and vegetables, as well as the topping options of grilled beef, chicken or tofu and sauces ranging from Green Sesame to Citron Soy.

Also on the menu are other traditional Korean options, such as the marinated-and-grilled meat dish bulgogi. Prices range from $8.99 to $11.99, though pricing may change.

Andy Kang, Bibigo's project manager, said two Bibigo locations opened earlier this year in Seoul, Korea, and another one debuted in Beijing. Parent company CJ Foodville, a division of CJ Group, has set the goal of opening 1,000 Bibigo locations around the world over the next five years, including 200 in the United States. The company plans to bring the Bibigo concept to New York in 2011.

Kang said the company will open the first few locations but expects to eventually launch a franchise program.

CJ Foodville is one division under the CJ Group umbrella, which also includes CJ CheilJedang, CJ America and CJ Entertainment. In press materials, CJ Group said it is Korea’s “largest food manufacturer,” but that its businesses also includes biotechnology products and pharmaceuticals, as well as entertainment and media, home shopping and logistics.

Bibigo is the company’s second brand to come to the United States. CJ Foodville also operates 15 French bakery-cafes called Tous Les Jours in California, Texas and Georgia.

The company’s U.S. headquarters, CJ America Inc., is based in Los Angeles.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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