The Roanoker - November/December 2017 - 14
Upping the Local Food Game
JOHN PARK DOESN'T WANT to be
called a "foodie." Considering how often
he talks about good food, he'd much rather
prefer to be called a "food evangelist."
"I understand why people call it foodie,
but to me over the years it's morphed into
this thing that feels like a negative connotation," he says. "It makes me sound like
I'm a food snob."
The thought couldn't be further from
the truth. Park has always had a deep connection with food and is happy to try just
about anything anywhere, including his
latest obsession with restaurants and taco
trucks along Williamson Road (and he'll
never say no to schoolhouse pizza and
cheap beer at Community Inn!).
His notoriety with the subject took off
about three years ago, thanks in part to
his Twitter feed, being in the right places
at the right times and attending different
events. Nowadays, your social feed may include photos of happy people in a restaurant, with Park's forehead at the forefront
as his "Hungry Asian" selfie brand. (He's
also been known to showcase food photography in this magazine.)
"I don't consider any of what I do 'networking,'" he says. "If I go somewhere, I
don't want to just sit there and be incognito. I want to make connections."
The same mentality applies to restaurants. Whenever Park visits a new spot, he
learns about the owners or chefs and the
story behind the business. For him, it isn't
just talking about the food, but also about
how it came to be.
Take our lunch spot, for example, where
we enjoy banh mi subs from Viet Sub.
When Park first heard of the restaurant,
he wanted to learn more about the owners and their story. He was fascinated by
someone coming from the corporate side
of business and switching up their entire
14 | NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2017
life to run a successful restaurant. For Park,
the details add to the story of their food.
Park is particularly excited about how
far Roanoke's food scene has grown in the
last few years, thanks in part to fine dining spots such as Local Roots, River and
Rail, Fortunato and many others. He believes good food promotes good business,
which comes full circle to encourage others
to "step up their food game."
When often asked for recommendations, Park needs more criteria than "good
pizza." For example, he'll ask what your
price point is or if you're looking for particular flavors, deep-dish versus thin crust
and other suggestions to narrow it down.
This way, he can give you the best recommendation possible. He'll often take guests
to the best of both restaurant worlds,
choosing fine dining for dinner and a
cheap brunch the next day, or vice versa.
Though he enjoys cooking, Park never
considered being a chef, understanding
that running a restaurant requires more
than simply liking food. "I know enough
about the restaurant industry to not get
involved with the restaurant industry," he
says. "To do a restaurant justice, you have
to be there all the time...You can be trained
very well to do something but if you want
to open a business, you need to be prepared to run a business. It's not about the
skill or talent level."
Park moved to Roanoke in 2004 after
graduating from Virginia Tech and works
full-time as a financial planner at Ameriprise Financial. While he loves his job,
he wanted to put his spare time to good
use. He's made a conscious effort to invest
his time into Roanoke and continues to
do so in more than just the food scene,
wanting to make a positive impact on the
area. He runs a weekly Monday Fun-Day
event which encourages people to come
John Park, aka Hungry Asian, loves learning the stories behind restaurants and their food.
John Park, food evangelist, is excited about
the booming food scene in Roanoke and the
exposure it brings to the region.
out and meet new friends; Tuesdays are
for Pub Runs, where groups go for a run
on the greenway followed by a nice, cold
beer. Park also helped start the annual
Food Truck Rodeo as well as the Pop-Up
Dinners taking place in Grandin at random intervals. These dinners feature visiting talents from other cities, including two
previous Hell's Kitchen chefs.
"It's not about me, it's about Roanoke,"
he says. "I enjoy doing it, but it's about the
people...Hopefully as we do more of them,
we'll get more high-profile chefs which
equals more exposure for the region." I
Check out John's photography on the
front cover, in our Dining section, and
throughout our 2018 Dining Awards!