For 14 years, chef Jayeon Kim has been cooking up breakfast burritos, cheeseburgers and BLT deli sandwiches with a side of sass at In & Out. Open five days a week from 6am to 4pm, the market is located on the lower level of the Commerce Arcade Building at Tenth and Main Street in Downtown Kansas City.
Kim and her Korean-born parents moved from New York City to Kansas City in 2005 after responding to an ad in the paper looking for someone to run a bodega. “I was only 21 when I started running the kitchen at In & Out,” she says.
Not sure what would sell in Kansas City, Kim kept the menu simple at first. Breakfast options included waffles, pancakes, eggs and bacon. For lunch, she would cook lighter dishes in the spring and summer, transitioning to heartier fare like pork chops with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy in the fall and winter.
“Over the years, I learned not to make such heavy dishes for lunch because I was putting people to sleep at their desks,” says Kim.
Yet Kim says she eventually tired of making the same old menu items. Five years ago, she introduced daily specials to give her more creative freedom, and buzz has slowly been building for her Korean barbecue specials.
“Those daily specials allowed me to add some new Korean, Thai and Mexican dishes to my deli menu,” she explains. “I still have to talk my regulars into trying them, because some of them are just stuck in a rut ordering their favorite sandwiches every day.”
On Mondays and Thursdays, Kim offers Korean specials for under $10, which have caught the attention of local chefs including Howard Hanna of The Rieger and Ça Va. “Although she tends to downplay her culinary experience, she is legit,” Hanna says.
On Monday, she serves her bulgogi burger on a ciabatta bun. The burger is seasoned with Korean barbecue sauce and topped with pickled carrots, cucumbers, red onions, mayo, Sriracha and lettuce. On Thursdays, she offers Korean barbecue featuring sliced marinated ribeye with grilled mushrooms and onions served over white rice with a fried egg on top.
As a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, now known as the International Culinary Center, Kim once worked in one of the most famous French restaurant kitchens in New York, Lutèce. She worked for chef André Soltner, who was also one of the deans at the French Culinary Institute along with Jacques Pépin, Jacques Torres and Alain Sailhac. She also spent time in Las Vegas, working at the satellite location for Lutèce that was formerly located inside the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas.
After Lutèce closed the doors to its New York outpost in 2004, Kim and her parents made plans to open up their own bodega and grill. Little did they know that they'd wind up opening it in Kansas City.
To the employees that work in her building, Kim is a fixture who starts their day off with a hearty breakfast and carries them through the noon hour with lunch. In the afternoon, she and her parents offer a place for customers to stop in for a soda, snack or smokes for their smoke break. Kim's 4-year-old son can sometimes be seen poking his head out from behind the counter or playing with his grandparents as they ring up customers.
As Kim stands in front of her tiny ventless cooking system (the space did not come with an oven hood), her hands start flying as soon as people walk up and place their order directly. Kim takes guff from no one, but she is friendly to both her regulars and new customers. As she is cooking, she will chat you up, teasing the regulars about knowing what they want to order almost before they do.
In & Out also offers hot and cold buffet items, but most customers make a beeline to the back of the store to place an order for fresh, hot food directly from Kim (who is also known to customers by her nickname, Debbie).
“I have plans beyond In & Out, and I would like to open own my own restaurant,” she says with a smile.
Until then, Kansas City diners will just have to enjoy Kim's weekly specials at the In & Out bodega downtown.
In & Out, 1007 Main St., Downtown, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.421.5041