North Korean Restaurants in Russia Fail to Draw Diners

RFA - Friday 9th November, 2018
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North Korean-themed restaurants in Vladivostok, Russia are facing financial difficulty recently as customers are staying away.

Once a valuable source of foreign cash, the once-trendy state-run dining and entertainment establishments are now reportedly losing money, with sources suggesting the fad of dining while listening to young women sing North Korean patriotic songs has come to an end.

A source in Vladivostok told RFA's Korean service, "[The restaurants] are losing customers so [it looks like] the boom is slowing. The restaurants are even empty during lunch hours!"

Sources of foreign capital

"There are three North Korean restaurants in Vladivostok, Kym Gang San, Morangak and Koryo," the source said. "North Korean women in their twenties are sent to work in these places as singers and dancers so that they can make foreign cash," the source said.

"Kym Gang San and Morangak are completely run by North Koreans, from kitchen staff to management, but Koryo doesn't appear to be run by North Korea anymore," the source said.

"It might have been handed over to Russian management recently. It is now operated by Russians," said the source.

No appetite for pricey performances

"I went to Kym Gang San and Morangak not too long ago during my lunch break and was surprised that both were almost completely empty," the source said. "They have enough space in the dining room to hold dozens of customers, and they also have private rooms, but only three of the tables were occupied!" the source said.

North Korean restaurants outside of North Korea have been popular not for their food, but for the singing and dancing performances featuring young women. But the source explained that what made the restaurants attractions in the first place is now difficult to see on a regular basis.

"They'll only perform for tables who spend more than 10,000 rubles ($151.00)," the source said.

The restaurants are, however, attempting different strategies in an effort to entice guests.

Another source, also from Vladivostok told RFA, "They've adopted a new reservation system, as the singing and dancing experience is only available to group customers spending 10,000 rubles."

"If this new scheme doesn't work, I don't know how these restaurants can survive here in Russia," the source added.

"Customers might feel it's not worth it, because these restaurants are expensive and they don't really have good food. The performances are all propaganda too," the source said.

"[They] prominently display photos of Kim Jong Un's recent meetings with foreign heads of state in an effort to idolize him," said the source.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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