Local Spotlight: An Interview with Restaurateur Jason Chin
An Interview with Orlando Restaurateur Jason Chin
As Orlando natives, we love meeting people who are helping to transform our beloved city. In our travels, we recently met a restaurateur who is helping to make the Orlando culinary scene more diverse, more sophisticated, and just generally more delicious! We had the good fortune of grabbing him for a quick interview and hope this introduction inspires you to check out one of his restaurants if you have not done so already! Please meet Jason Chin.
Jason and his wife Sue are partners in their many restaurants here in Orlando [Seito Sushi (Baldwin Park), Osprey Tavern (Baldwin Park), and Reyes Mezcaleria (downtown)]. Jason’s entrepreneurial spirit will make anyone feel like they aren’t doing enough in their life!
Q: Jason, we read in one of your biographies that you got your culinary start as a “dish boy” in the Seito kitchen. Can you tell us about any one moment in your life where you recognized your potential to run a restaurant empire? Was there any deciding moment where you said, “I know I can do this myself?”
Yes, that’s right, I got my start in the industry as a dish boy at the original Seito in the Winter Park Village. My mom and dad started the original Seito in that location and always had me around doing some type of work. I wouldn’t say there was a single defining moment that I realized that I could build a restaurant “empire”. It was just a need I had as a creative person to try to apply what I had learned at Seito and do something entirely new. And what an experience it has been! The last few years have been the most difficult time in my professional career. I’ve learned more in the last 3 years with the opening of Osprey and Reyes that I have my entire career. I have been very fortunate to have many loyal supporters of Seito Baldwin Park that allowed me to take on new opportunities and for that I could not be more thankful.
Q: Your ethnic background is Korean. Can you tell us about how your background informs your day-to-day business approach, and how it influences your culinary tastes and aesthetics?
My Korean background has definitely played a big part in business. My parents instilled in me this insane immigrant work ethic. It was, “be the first one in and the last one out”. Obviously now, with 3 different locations, that would be humanly impossible, but what that obsessive approach did for me was help me see all the minutiae of the operations and allow me to have a very detailed idea of how I like things done. My background definitely influences my taste in food as well. Korean cuisine utilizes many techniques you would find in many old world cuisines, such as pickling, fermentation and any kind of preservation. Growing up with this cuisine gave me an adventurous nature when it came to food and has really helped me in understanding and appreciating all types of food.
Q: Your wife is the interior designer whose beautiful and eclectic taste have improved the spaces of your restaurants. With the two of you in the business, how do you achieve work-life balance?
Yes, I am very lucky to have such a talented wife! At this point in time I can’t say that I have a work-life balance, but that is always something that we are looking to achieve soon. Reyes Mezcaleria is still too new for me to not feel like I have to spend even just a little bit of time there every day. What makes this work for the both of us is our understanding and support for one another.
Q: When you and your family have free time, what do you like to do- where do you go to blow off some steam, are there any comfort meals you like to eat, are there any activities you enjoy?
We really enjoy taking the kids out to the beach or anywhere outdoors. They also love Epcot, but I think they are starting to get sick of that now, haha, what spoiled kids! There is this Korean chicken stew that Sue makes that is my ultimate comfort, otherwise the kids love to go to Korea House. I think they just like the grill being on the table.
Q: We love how your restaurants pay attention to all the crucial things: food quality/variety, cocktails, desserts, interiors. How do you cultivate creativity in your ventures?
This is a short answer: we travel.
Q: Are there any deficits in the Orlando food scene that you see- any food trends that we don’t have yet, or any opportunities for other types of cuisines or food establishments?
There are, but I think the biggest deficit we have pertains to our population. We don’t really have the demand and understanding to support many types of restaurants that you would find in many other metro areas. I would love to see more ethnic food but without the customer base to support an eatery that has what most would consider “obscure” food, they would not last. I’ve heard woes from chefs and restaurateurs where they have been forced to make their menus more “pedestrian” in order to attract more business. I would love to hear that guests are becoming more and more adventurous when it comes to cuisine. That would really help boost and diversify our options.
Q: What other local eateries do you enjoy patronizing, and why?
I really enjoy supporting local chefs that are cooking with integrity: Soco, Black Rooster, The Ravenous Pig, Rusty Spoon, Smiling Bison, 1921 by NVA, DoveCote, just to name a few.
Q: Are there any exciting events (foodie or otherwise) coming up in the next 6 months that you are looking forward to?
I am really looking forward to our Beard in Baldwin event that we will be putting together April 14th. We focus the event around our city’s talented local chefs and raise funds for the James Beard National Scholars program.
Q: If you could travel to one foreign city for a vacation, where would you go and why?
I’ve had Positano on my mind. I’ve never been and it looks dreamy.
Thank you Jason, for your time and talent, for helping to make the City Beautiful, also the City Delicious. We appreciate that you spared some of your free time to tell us more about yourself on our blog. You can experience Jason’s hospitality at one of his dining establishments in the city:
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