The idea behind Berkeley’s Korean Superette started as a grander plan seven years ago. Shoppers looking for Korean groceries then had only a few options, recalls Chi Moon, a partner at Korean Superette. There was Oakland’s Koreana Plaza, or the choice to head to San Jose or San Francisco. In 2015 Moon’s family, who owns a handful of Bay Area restaurants including Ohgane, Bowl’d, Spoon Korean Bistro, and BopShop, considered opening a large Korean grocery store. “It didn’t go through,” Moon says. “So we kept that idea aside.”
Fast forward to 2022, and while Korean Superette on Solano Avenue isn’t quite a full-fledged grocery store, the shop is serving homestyle Korean food alongside a selection of Korean groceries meant to cater to a single-family household. Moon, along with sister Jessica Oh, and friend Hyeyoung Yoon, opened the superette together in April, taking over the former Rivoli space after its closure in September, though the space had been dark since August. The prepared food portion of the superette differs from Moon and Oh’s other restaurants — two of which, Bowl’d and BopShop Korean Kitchen, are also located on Solano Avenue — and instead focuses on Korean comfort foods that can be ordered at the front counter. Among the options are two kinds of tteokbokki, braised rice cakes with either beef and vegetables or fish cakes and an egg; jjajangmyeon, udon noodles with a black soybean sauce; soondubu jjigae, a soft tofu stew made with vegetables, egg and a choice of protein. “You feel like you’re eating food that mom made for you,” Yoon says.
The food menu is a selection of the partners’ favorite dishes, but with more vegetables. “We’re conscious about making healthy food,” Moon says. Along with food cooked to order, there’s also a selection of prepared to-go and ready-to-heat items available in one of the fridges lining the wall of the superette. These items will change often, depending on the selection of vegetables available, Yoon says.
Further into Korean Superette, the back portion of the space serves as both a market for Korean food and pantry items, as well as an eating area that extends onto the back patio and garden. For those who enjoy instant noodles, there’s an entire wall dedicated to them, a colorful array of both Korean favorites as well as ramen from Japan and other Asian countries: buldak ramen, kimchi ramen, soon veggie noodle soup. Another wall covers pantry staples such as gochujang, cooking oils, and different noodles; there’s even a tiny housewares section of dishes and utensils, if needed. Peruse the freezers and refrigerators that line the eastern side of the building and you’ll find a mix of goodies ready to bring home; there’s a medley of banchan packed in to-go deli containers, which sit alongside bagged rice cakes; frozen foods such as mandu, or dumplings, Korean corn dogs, with its extra-crispy exterior, and more; there’s also a small selection of thinly sliced meat, ready for Korean barbecue, as well as chicken and pork cutlets.
Despite the shelves of groceries and the wall of refrigerators, the business manages to evoke a sense of home for Yoon. “The garden and the layout itself, it feels like a house to me,” Yoon says. “The garden gives you comfort and coziness like you’re sitting in the kitchen or living room, eating a meal. I’m from Korea, but I came here years ago and I’m always missing Korean food. I can’t really get that mom-made, side dish banchans and kimchi, and so I want to give people that feeling about homemade Korean food.”
Korean Superette (1539 Solano Avenue, Berkeley) is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Saturday, and the kitchen closes at 8 p.m.