When Andrew Ahn moved to L.A. to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker, he never expected to land so close to his roots — in a kitchen, slinging Philly cheesesteaks. Thirty years earlier, his Korean immigrant father had gotten his start in America making cheesesteaks in Philadelphia. He later opened his own cheesesteak shop and deli in New Jersey, with baby Andrew tied to his waist while he worked. When Andrew’s parents later joined him in L.A., one of the first questions they asked was, “Where can I get a good cheesesteak in L.A.?” Andrew had no answer, and Boo’s Philly Cheesesteaks was born in 2011. Read on to see how Andrew has used his Philly hustle and filmmaker’s eye to build a restaurant brand and tell a story of family, hard work and straight up comfort food.
Tell us how about your journey as a restaurant owner. How did you get to where you are today?
(Photo by @pureahn)
I came to L.A. to be a filmmaker. I had a one-way ticket, no friends, empty pockets, so I know what it’s like to start from nothing. When my dad got laid off after 2008, he and my mom moved to L.A. to live with me. I was working every job I could while doing my film stuff. The question then was, do I want to do what I want to do, or do I want to take care of my family? I was fortunate that my parents sacrificed a lot for me, so I felt that I had to take care of my parents when they needed me.
The first job my dad had in America was making cheesesteaks in Philly. But he couldn’t find a good one when we moved to L.A. and started doing some research. He was able to borrow some money from friends, but he didn’t realize the amount of paperwork it took to start a restaurant in 2011. I went to all the city departments, did my due diligence and sketched a map of our store on paper. And the plan was approved. To be honest, I helped with the opening so my parents could have a small business for themselves. But after two months, LA Weekly came by and just blew us up. I decided to put my film stuff on hold to take care of this. I’ve always been down to hustle and grind, and next thing you know, we have three locations and I’ve hired an office manager because I have so much paperwork.
How do you think your film background influences how you approach the restaurant business?
I’m a storyteller. Whether you’re a filmmaker or a restaurateur, you want to make a name for yourself and your brand. You need to make sure people know what that brand represents. And if you don’t know how to tell your story, then you won’t be able to make it known to everyone. That’s what I’ve been focused on, and that’s bringing my filmmaking and storytelling abilities into the restaurant business.
Is telling the story of yourself and your background part of what you’re serving at Boo’s, beyond just the food?
(Photo by @pureahn)
With social media and review sites, there are a lot of voices—everyone’s making a lot of noise. My job as a business owner is to figure out a way to navigate that and be able to clarify what we do and how we do it. My business isn’t some crazy, social-media driven thing. It’s comfort food, and there’s nothing sexy about it. I want to do really good cheesesteaks. Where I grew up, cheesesteaks were about South Philly spirit and Italian guys and Rocky. But this new generation doesn’t know about Rocky and South Philly, so we have a really great opportunity to make the origins of the cheesesteak our own. It’s about being Korean and moving to Philly and building a business from nothing. This is all part of the cheesesteak story, part of the experience you’re having at our place.
So what forms does this story take, and how do you get it out there, especially when translating a Philly story to L.A.?
There are always opportunities to make sure our story is being told. I do a lot of behind-the-scenes things on social media, like a web series called #TheHustle, an episode of All Def Digital and a Dodge Ram commercial. You’re seeing the resolution of our business from these videos. I think humans know when something is 100% real and honest and good. They can appreciate a person who’s gonna work hard, lead by example and take care of their business, friends, and family. All stories that stem from that will resonate with people. That’s where the filmmaking thing comes together. You’re able to control how you’re communicating to your audience quicker and more effectively.
Lastly, where did the name “Boo’s” come from?
(Photo by @pureahn)
My grandma’s Korean name was Lee Boo Soon. She’s the one person that raised me aside from my parents, and she’s part of the story too. She passed away, but I thought this would be a great way to honor her.