When Clara Lee moved to the Bay Area to work in startups and edtech, she missed the authentic Korean food of her home in New York, so began cooking for herself and gatherings of friends, even dropping off food for them to store. Now she’ll formalize that project with Queens, which she calls an “online Korean deli:” Starting Thursday, February 15th, Queens will take orders from a menu of ready-to-eat dishes and fermented and frozen foods to stash, making weekly deliveries to SF customers.
Lee’s inspiration for Queens are the shops that dot Korean American areas of Los Angeles and New York, businesses that even cater events for families or groups. “That was a big part of my culture growing up,” says Lee. Not only are they missing from SF, she suggests, but putting them online might be able to extend their shelf life everywhere. “It’s something that I thought was probably a dying breed in these next generations, just because food is so easily accessible, and storefronts like [they have] are hard to come by.”
Queens operates out of Forage Kitchen, an Oakland commissary and food incubator, and will also hold occasional pop-up dinners and tastings. The focus is authentic banchan, which keeps well, and stews like Kimchi Jjigae (aged kimchi, heritage pork, tofu, green onion, and dashi-anchovy stock).
“What sets our food apart is it’s quite traditional,” says Lee — you won’t find Korean fried chicken or other trendy food on her menu. “My parents and grandparents didn’t grow up eating fried chicken,” she explains — in fact, they ate mostly vegetarian. Queens emphasizes “fresh, local, seasonal produce — which is easy in the Bay Area. Lots of seasonal items here are traditional to Korean cuisine: Wild greens like lamb’s quarters, things that can be foraged like mushrooms.... Napa cabbage is readily available, [and] you can’t even get that in LA or even New York.”
While Queens name checks a borough of Lee’s native city that’s home to a major Korean American population, the business is actually named for her personal heroes, her mother and grandmother. “It’s an homage to the women of Korea, the women who defined Korean flavors and cooking techniques, and it sort of tells the story of their movement, and their global movement out of Korea.”
“Me, being a daughter of immigrants, I wanted to show the enduring flavors, but also the evolved approach throughout America... It’s just a way to take a type of cuisine I’m so passionate about, and share it with others: That’s why the online deli delivery approach made sense.”
Queens’ online ordering goes live on February 15th. Deliveries will be made by Queens on Tuesdays in two delivery windows, with deliveries outside SF to come.