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Inspiring Conversations with Joyce Williams of Kimchee Girl

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joyce Williams.

Joyce, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My name is Joyce, and I opened a kimchee company called Kimchee Girl.
I make, jar, and sell authentic Korean kimchee. I’m a proud, first-generation American whose parents legally immigrated from Seoul, South Korea, to the United States in the early 1970s. Our family was one of the first to immigrate to Central Pennsylvania from South Korea. Being the youngest of five children and the only one born in the U.S.A., I have always loved my Korean heritage and food, especially kimchee.

After my mother passed away, my father stopped making kimchee, and kimchee was something we ate at all meals. Not being able to find kimchee at the stores that I liked, I decided to have my dad, who is still very active at the age of 85, show me how to make it during the pandemic in 2020. I set up Kimchee Girl, LLC, and got all my permits and inspections. From there, it has been full steam ahead. Kimchee Girl is a vegan, gluten-free, probiotic-rich, and all-natural kimchee. I sell it online at www.kimcheegirl.com across the country, or it is available in some retail outlets like FireFly Farms Market in the Whitehall Mill in Baltimore.

On May 16, 2016, I received a devastating breast cancer diagnosis. Five years prior, my mother received the same breast cancer diagnosis and then passed away from lung cancer just two years later. My mother’s passing was a very integral part of starting Kimchee Girl. My breast cancer diagnosis was followed by a diagnosis of pre-uterine cancer just two years later. Cancer is devastating to any family at any age. It takes its toll on your body, spirit, relationships, and finances. I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband, a great support system, a loving family, friends, and one of the best cancer hospitals (Johns Hopkins in Baltimore) within an hour and a half drive.

I am cancer-free and healthy after many hospitalizations, operations, and years later. Now, it’s my turn to help less fortunate families. A portion of every sale will go toward helping a family affected by cancer.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
I believe the largest obstacle is that not everyone knows what kimchee is. So I enjoy educating them about the history of kimchee and the health benefits of kimchee. My kimchee is Vegan, Gluten-Free, Medium Spicy, Probiotics (Good Gut Health), and chock-full of Vitamin A, B, C, and, Antioxidants,

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
My father was the first to arrive in 1971, joining an already growing number of extended family who had settled in New Cumberland by chance. My parent immigrated from Seoul, South Korea, where they were farmers. They sold their wedding rings to move their four children (my two older brothers and two older sisters) to the United States. My parents and siblings were proud to obtain their American citizenship. I am the only one born in the United States, so I’m the only one with an American first name, Joyce. I have always loved my Korean heritage and Korean food.

Making kimchee is truly a labor of love. As a child, I remember the entire family headed outside on Saturday mornings to harvest cabbage from the earth, wash it with the yard hose, and form an assembly line of the various tasks required to make hundreds of pounds of kimchee. The entire operation was run by my mother, whose friends would then come flocking for a taste of home.

Fast forward to 2020, I have been unhappy with grocery story kimchee. Since my mother’s passing, my father stopped making kimchee, and I have not been able to find one that tastes like my mother’s. So during the pandemic, I asked my father to show me how to make kimchee (a long, arduous task). After making a couple hundred pounds of kimchee under my father’s direction, I finally got the recipe down.

In 2021 after receiving all my State permits, I started producing, jarring, and was ready to sell my mother’s kimchee called Kimchee Girl. The challenge was, “How do I get people to try my kimchee?” So I decided to attend festivals, outdoor markets, and fairs where I set up my big pink tent and not only sell my kimchee in jars but to cook traditional Korean meals. I figured the smell of the Kalbi beef short ribs and Korean-style pork chops on the grill would pull people over to my tent, and it worked. I have regular customers that eat kimchee every day and will buy a month’s worth of kimchee at a time. I’m amazed and humbled by the positive reception and support I have received from the community. I was approached by the developer of a new Fresh Market opening in Hershey, PA, to be one of only a few hot food vendors. The market, which is called Fresh Market at Hershey Towne Square, will be opening this summer. I’ll be selling my kimchee and Korean meals at the market.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
Just my parents and family for supporting me through this journey.

The story about the spelling of kimchee is fascinating. South Koreans insist it is spelled kimchee instead of kimchi or kimchi, which many consider Japanese variants of the Korean name. “It’s our last point of pride,” said Lee Sung-woo at the Korean government’s Patent Bureau, spearheading the campaign to standardize the spelling as kimchee. I have a link to the complete story on my website at https://kimcheegirl.com/blogs/kimchee-girl-news/kimchee-or-tasteless-misspelling

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