Until recently, one would not associate Bracebridge as a likely location for finding a variety of multicultural cuisine, let alone authentic. Often, in order to taste the exotic flavours of abroad, a special trip to Toronto would be in order. However, this lengthy trip down south is no longer required, as nestled away in the Wellington Street Plaza, the Wabora Japanese Fusion Steakhouse now offers a new taste to Muskoka.
Having just celebrated their 3-year anniversary this past June, the Wabora as it is most often referred too, has become the new name of fine dining in Bracebridge.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to talk with Min Soo Kim, the owner and operator of the Wabora.
Born and raised in South Korea, Min Soo grew up with an appetite for food. As an avid baseball player, Min Soo constantly found himself in the kitchen preparing meals to mend cravings and fuel his athletic energy. At the age of 15, Min Soo migrated to Canada and soon found himself traveling across North America for minor league baseball. It was from these formative years of travel that Min Soo developed a strong pallet for taste and fine cuisine. Having experienced countless styles of food and a variety of taste, Min Soo came to the conclusion that food is something that should not be boring –once you try it, the flavours should burst out into your mouth.
When his baseball career came to a close, Min Soo immediately began to consider the next chapter of his life. It was on a visit to his parents, who own a hotel in Gravenhurst that Min Soo first thought of opening a restaurant. Recognizing the need for something new and fresh, and straying from the typical Muskokan restaurant niche of burgers, fries, salads and wraps, Min Soo went for something totally different –he brought a taste of his home to ours.
Acknowledging that not everyone enjoys the same types of food, Min Soo blended authentic Japanese and Korean food with more traditional North American Asian dishes in order to appease the diverse appetites of customers. Min Soo explained his fusion style restaurant by alluding to a family of 5 coming into the Wabora for dinner. Several family members may enjoy sushi, but what about the rest? Some may not eat raw fish and would like to order a cooked dish. The Wabora menu according to Min Soo offers customers an array of choice with food that caters to everyone. And yes, this includes food without raw fish!
Recognizing the need for maintaining authenticity, Min Soo made a major initial investment in the Wabora. Using a series of contacts and friends, Min Soo hired several chefs directly from Asia. These chefs, under the watchful eye of Min Soo are responsible for crafting only the finest foods for Wabora customers. Ensuring that every dish is served to perfection, Min Soo must first drive to Toronto on a daily basis to pick up fresh ingredients and return to Bracebridge before the lunch hour. In Min Soo’s eyes, the quality of food you deliver to your customer is what you owe to them—anything less and you are devaluing your customers.
An instant hit, the Wabora has also found considerable success in the redistribution of a variety of its sushi products. Attributing countless hours to self-promotion, marketing and continuous free sampling campaigns, Min Soo began external distribution in the town of Port Carling at two locations: Morley Stephen Butchers and Field of Greens. Finding people overwhelmingly embraced the opportunity to purchase Wabora sushi at these two locations, Min Soo continued to increase the number of stores that would sell Wabora sushi. A true testament to the success of Min Soo and the food of the Wabora came in the summer of 2009, when in collaboration with Gagnon’s Your Independent Grocer (also an avid carrier of Wabora sushi), Min Soo held several fully packed ‘Do it yourself sushi’ classes at the Upstairs at Gagnon’s kitchen facility.
Min Soo saw the popularity of these classes as a reflection of how the town of Bracebridge, residents and visitors, has come to embrace the Wabora. In appreciation of this support and by reaching back to his baseball roots, Min Soo held a 3-day kids baseball camp. Aimed at offering all kids an opportunity to learn the ‘game of summer’ from an expert, Min Soo showed he is also a community-oriented person.
Continuing the success of the original Wabora restaurant, Min Soo announced that a brand new store is due to open in early August on the main floor of the brand new 5-star Thompson Hotel at King and Bathurst in Toronto. If the new Wabora location enjoys the same success as the original in Bracebridge, it is fair to say the possibility of even greater future expansion is very probable.