BUSAN, South Korea -Though this long-standing Kyungsung staple just celebrated its five-year anniversary, the road to Pasta Factory’s outstanding reputation was paved by more than just killer focaccia and lick-the-bowl “rosie” sauce. In fact, up until his early thirties, Jackey was well on his way to a career in interior architecture and carpentry, a skill set that has certainly lent itself to PF’s indubitable design sense.
While studying near Vancouver, Jackey learned of his older brother, Jung Jung Chan’s, new venture as a restaurateur. He was a little perplexed, as Jung Chan had been a practicing veterinarian. Jackey, himself, had acquired a taste for international foods while living abroad, but he wasn’t aware that a similar interest had grown in Jung Chan…to the point where it birthed a little pasta restaurant on the third floor of Sfunz in Haeundae. A year after Bella Rosa’s 2002 opening, Jackey was slapped with the tragic news that Jung Chan had been involved in a fatal car accident, and so Jackey dutifully returned to Busan to take over his lost brother’s restaurant and carry out the unlikely legacy that Jung Chan had left behind.
“I had no clue how to run a restaurant,” said Jackey. “But I knew I had to see my brother’s dream through. I spent the first six months learning how to run the kitchen from Bella Rosa’s chef. It’s like a science.”
Once he had the kitchen mechanics down, he concentrated on learning the front of the house.
“I was taught by a seventeen year old part-timer. She showed me everything from how and when to pour to how to talk to customers.”
It’s safe to say she taught him well — something anyone who has eaten at Pasta Factory will quickly tell you.
During that year, Jackey began to add some of his own recipes to the mix. Living on his own since the age of twenty, he had always enjoyed cooking for himself, though he had been quite ambivalent about western food. When he decided to move to Canada to study, he prepped himself by eating a Subway sandwich for lunch every single day. Upon arrival in Canada, Jackey’s palate quickly adapted to the vast array of flavors on offer, but it wasn’t until he moved in with his host mother, Benji, that he really came to understand how to harness those flavors. Benji and her husband had a large family, but all of their children were grown. They filled their empty nest with six exchange students, and Jackey considers himself lucky to have landed in that roost.
“She was an amazing cook, my host mother. Italian was her specialty, but she could cook anything. There were days when she would prepare six completely different lunches, to satisfy everyone.”
This philosophy of ‘keeping everyone happy’ would become a crucial component in how Jackey was to proceed. Though Bella Rosa had a solid menu and its fair share of loyal customers, there wasn’t enough foot traffic to sustain it. After a twelve-hour day that proffered a meager 45,000 won profit, Jackey knew it was time to close Bella Rosa’s doors. Yet he did so with a newfound conviction… to open his own restaurant.
“I felt as if my brother had given me the gift of a new path.”
In turn, Jackey gave us the gift of Pasta Factory. The name was a no-brainer. Jackey was aware that in most Korean establishments, substitutions are usually refused. He figured that offering ten different menu items with three different kinds of noodles available resulted in thirty choices. Although he wanted to create a warm space, the price of wood is astronomical in Korea, so he went with the ‘factory’ theme for the restaurant’s interior: minimalist design using silver and muted tones. He then added the warmth by using dark red as his ‘point color,’ subtle lighting and music, and, of course… the service.
One of the best things about taking in a meal at Pasta Factory is the cast of characters that greet you at the door. This lively crew seems to know the name of anyone who’s eaten there more than once, and perpetually make you feel as if they’ve welcomed you into their living room, without going overboard. Most Italian restaurants that exist in Korea incorporate very formal service to match the price tag… as doing Italian cuisine properly requires 100% imported goods. But Jackey didn’t want his restaurant to feel stuffy.
“My opinion about service is that it should be casual but attentive… anticipating a customer’s needs without constantly interrupting them. You have to be a mind reader, so that a customer has a full water glass or a new basket of bread before they realize that it’s empty.”
It is obvious that the staff at Pasta Factory enjoy their jobs. And they seem totally at ease around their boss, which is underscored by a deep admiration. When hiring, Jackey conducts at least an hour-long interview with each potential employee – even if it’s just for a part-time job.
“I like to know more about who I hire than just their work experience. I want to know their backgrounds, hobbies, goals and dreams. And I want to take the time to give them the whole picture…the menu, the philosophy, before they accept the job.”
If a comfortable milieu is reason enough to visit, then the food is what will keep you returning, again and again. No matter how busy PF is (expect a wait on Friday and Saturday evenings), every single dish that the kitchen cranks out is spot on. From the beautifully plated salads to the thin crust pizzas to the moist and savory risottos – it’s amazing how ‘right’ each flavor is. Of the pasta dishes, divided into categories by sauce, the Chicken Rosie (cream infused marinara) is, by far, the most popular. It’s Jackey’s favorite, as well.
Don’t be surprised if, while you’re sopping up the last of your sauce with your third helping of the rosemary focaccia, Jackey pays a visit to your table. And expect him to blush a little when you pay him the compliments that your meal deserves. Jackey’s not in it for the praise. Nor is he in it for the food, really. As he put it so well, “I created this restaurant for what a good meal can do…make people smile.”
To get there: At the Kyungsung University station, take exit 5, swing back around, take a right and head towards Pukyoung University. Make another right at the Dunkin' Donuts a few blocks down. Pasta Factory will be on your left.