Walking along Korea Way, a blossoming restaurant known as BCD Tofu House can be found by its squarely shaped, tangerine and neon green logo and a throng of people standing in line when the moon is lit. Pushing past the clear plastic doors and into the dining area is like going through a huge dining hall on a cruise ship. The restaurant contains with two floors dedicated to seating customers. BCD Tofu House has a paradoxical high-end, homey vibe to it. The walls, tables and chairs all have a modern taste to it with a mud brown and beige filling the vicinity.  The doors’ handles are shaped and textured like tree branches and the lights are a yellowish bright color. Korean music bounces off the walls.

BCD Tofu House is, in fact, a franchise. The original one opened up in the 1990s in California, but once it grew much popularity the business owners decided to expand to New Jersey and New York City. All nine locations have their own tofu making factory, so all the tofu is organic and homemade. There are seven kinds of tofu soup that the restaurant makes, using different kinds of meat, fish and mushrooms.  They even adjust the spiciness level to each and every individual’s liking. It sounds swell and all until you look at the expensive prices of each meal.

Nevertheless, centered in Koreatown, BCD Tofu House bustles with hungry and diverse customers. “They hear about tofu soup through their own means and maybe it got popular with K-Pop culture,” young hostess Iris affirms. Her response isn’t at unreasonable considering that Western K-pop fans have gradually grew in numbers over the past decade. Considering that K-Pop is intended for younger age groups of people, it is important to note that 1,296 people or 67,782% of people around Koreatown were under 35 years old.   K-pop is not only helping shape Korea in a positive way to the Western hemisphere, but it is also helping many Korean businesses like BCD Tofu House garner customers and profit. 

"We are on yelp, so they come in for the first time and a lot of them happen to be Chinese." Iris


Chinese and Korean Population

Strangely, their majority demographic was Chinese people, coming in for about 60% of the business’s customers. Korean people took up about 30% of the demographic and the rest were other ethnic groups. “We are on yelp, so they come in for the first time and a lot of them happen to be Chinese,” Iris explains. This statistic makes perfect sense when looking at the total population of Chinese, except Taiwanese in and around Koreatown. The total amounted to 352 people or 39.506% of the whole Asian population in that area. Meanwhile the total population of Koreans is 325 people or 36.476% of the Asian population there. In other words, there is a majority of Chinese people out of all Asian people around and in Koreatown while Korean people are slightly less than the majority.  


Foreign-born Groups

BCD Tofu House also has Asian immigrant workers and customers due to its location. According to a 2015 map, 976 foreign born people live in the tract that contains Koreatown. Of those 976 people, 695 of them are from an Asian based country. This equates to 71.209% of the foreign born population and to 36.349% of the total population. About every one out of three people in that census tract were foreign born Asians.

It’s reasonable to understand why BCD Tofu House owners chose that particular location. The restaurant has a much larger economic advantage over other mom and pop stores and restaurants because of these groups of people in this area.  The biggest group of people there were white alone: 921 people or 48.169% from a 2015 census map. The second largest and the only other one with a percentage greater than ten is obvious: Asian alone totalled to 891 or 46.6%. The average income of families or 638 households or 63.106%  have an income of less than $150,00. Considering that the area’s population is divided between white people and only one minority group, that it’s a very dense part of Manhattan, that Koreatown is surrounded by more franchises and conglomerates, that almost 40% of households there are making above typical middle class money,  it’s safe to say Koreatown is located in an expensive, gentrified area. Affluent caucasian people will flock to the restaurant because Koreatown is known for its authentic Korean food, different food than from their own background while Asian people will go there because they are in the area already and it’s centered in a Korean ethnic enclave. People there can afford it. And if not, they go a lot because it serves food from their culture.


Different Races around K-Town


Food from BCD Tofu House
Photo Credit: Madison Paredes


Household Incomes in and around K-Town

BCD Tofu House is a prime example of immigration stories with a happy ending. Throughout history, the Korean immigrants had to have overcome many obstacles. It wasn’t really until relatively recently, that the number of Koreans grew exponentially. In 1970, 69,000 Korean immigrants were accounted for by the Census Bureau in the United States. Through the early 70s, each year approximately 30,000 Korean immigrants came to America.  In a collection of essays called One Out of Three: Immigrant New York in the 21st Century edited by Nancy Foner, the reasons given as for why the population size of Koreans in the United States increased are lack of employment opportunities, marriage between Korean women and American military servicemen, competitive and expensive Korean college education, military dictatorship and fear of another war with North Korea. Why America though? Well, the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s  had led to approval of the Immigration Act of 1965, allowing a maximum of 170,000 Eastern Hemisphere immigrants to enter the United States per year with the intention of reunifying families. Yet, with this act any Koreans can come and so they took advantage. According to scholar of Asian American studies Hyeyoung Kwon, “many new Korean immigrants were highly skilled professionals from urban areas,” coming with families and entering the “service or technology sectors instead of going into manufacturing and agricultural sectors like earlier immigrants.” Medical doctors came to New York and New Jersey especially because of the demand for professional doctors in those areas. Along with them came young students from universities who intended to use their degrees to find white collar jobs or create businesses. The number of Korean immigrants swarming into America started to shrink by 1976, when Americans grew fearful that Korean doctors would take away their jobs. Medical doctors were restricted from entering the states while the South Korean government restricted wealthy and high ranking military servicemen from leaving. By the late 1980s, a dramatic drop was found in the number of Korean immigrants coming to America primarily because the economy was better after the coup finally ended, but also because of the hardships in adjusting to American society due to language barriers, racial discrimination, and non-transferability of their Korean degrees. As a result, the Koreans in America turned to the idea of capitalism: they became self-employed and created small businesses, and they did this all in closed-off Korean minority neighborhoods.

Korea Way Today
Photo Credit: Madison Paredes

K-town was in fact a consequence of a bunch of Koreans coming to America in the last few decades, wishing to start anew and create their own businesses. After many second  and third generation Jewish Americans moved out of the inner cities in the 1960s to go on to white collar jobs. This left a large demand from prior consumers of the Jewish businesses. Hence, Korean immigrants started to collect within these urban areas. In New York City, Seoul House opened in 1972 in midtown Manhattan, New York Gomtang House opened on 27th Street in 1979 , moving to 32nd Street in 1982,  Koryo Book Store opened in 1980, and the Stanford Hotel opened in 1986. Along 32nd Street many Korean restaurants, optometrists’ offices and beauty salons gathered in hopes to make profit. According to Wendy Lu’s article “Secrets of Koreatown,”  they didn’t fare too well due to the “ presence of the “welfare hotel” at the made, until it closed in 1989. “ Apparently, it was rumored to be the most notorious of hotels. However, once it was closed, more and more people grew more attention. By 2000, K-Pop culture had swayed the hearts of many Asian Americans to visit K-Town and thereby leaving Koreans with incentive to establish more businesses and with more money in their pockets. As second and third generations Koreans grew older, many also introduced their friends and romantic partners to Korean culture through K-Town while Korean parents kept the culture alive by taking these very same younger generation Koreans there. Eventually, people of other backgrounds like the affluent caucasians flocked to places in K-Town like BCD Tofu House on their own for the food and because of their love for K-Pop culture.


Foner, Nancy, editor. One Out of Three: Immigrant New York in the Twenty-First Century. Columbia University Press, 2013. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/fone15936.

Kwon, Hyeyoung, and Chanhaeng Lee. “Korean American History.” Korean Education Center in Los Angeles (2009).

Lu, Wendy. “Secrets of Koreatown.” Am New York. N.p., 14 July 2016. Web. 30 May 2017.

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