Clara Kleindorfer and Kathleen Chen
Joy on York: A Source of Joy in the Midst of Chaos
Updated: Oct 11, 2020
Taiwanese street food with a hipster LA twist
Located on a bustling street corner in Highland Park, Joy Restaurant emanates chill vibes and an intimate liveliness. The modern and hipster restaurant brings a small part of Taiwanese street food and nightlife to the streets of Los Angeles while maintaining its unique style. We had the pleasure of speaking with Vivian Ku, the founder of Joy Restaurant and Pine and Crane, who shared with us her journey as a restaurant owner and an Asian American growing up in California.
Vivian started Joy Restaurant as a sister restaurant to her first restaurant, Pine and Crane. Her team was growing and she wanted to challenge herself and find a new environment. With this in mind, she created Joy with a similar menu but a smaller kitchen and a fresh concept: to replicate a Taiwanese dining experience with a small kitchen and space where people can come together. Before Pine and Crane, Ku struggled with committing to the restaurant career but says it was easier to start a restaurant the second time around because she was now sure that the restaurant career was for her. She borrowed money from her family and friends and faced the risk that comes with any entrepreneurial endeavor.
Growing up on a farm in Bakersfield, California, freshly harvested vegetables were part of Vivian’s daily life. This greatly influenced her appreciation for fresh produce and simple food. Though her mother wasn’t great at cooking, Vivian tasted parts of her Taiwanese heritage through eating homemade noodles at her grandparents’ house. From then on, Vivian’s passion for Taiwanese cuisine and specifically, Taiwanese street food only grew. She was drawn to the casual nature of street food that reaches a large audience and brings everyone together. At the end of the day, everyone can appreciate the food without classism involved. With street food as her inspiration, Vivian aimed to make Joy Restaurant genuine and hospitable, hiring those who enjoy feeding others. Everything at Joy is handmade, and Vivian draws inspiration from her formal training, experience working in different restaurants in Taiwan, and traditional recipes from her childhood.
As a minority growing up in a predominantly white area, Vivian mainly identified with her “American side,” but now as an adult, she has reconciled her Taiwanese heritage and American identity and even finds it hard to tell the two apart. She lives “between worlds” and involuntarily switches on different parts of her identity depending on the situation. At times, she even feels both identities simultaneously. While she did not face much racism growing up, Vivian has felt the microaggressions that populate the everyday life of an Asian business owner. While Ku acknowledges racism, she believes that humanity is innately beautiful and chooses to focus on the good.
One of the things that shines most about Vivian is her positivity. While this Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for business owners everywhere, Vivian has been working through it by prioritizing the health and safety of her team and guests. The pandemic forced Joy to revamp its technology and put a strain on everybody, but ultimately these changes allowed the restaurant to adapt. She says she always looks back on things she would have done differently, but it is part of learning. She tries not to have regrets because good things usually stem from the bad. Her warmth and care towards others are reciprocated, and her guests continually express care over how she and her team are doing during this period. While not all people have been pleasant, Vivian is confident that the good and beautiful trump all the bad and ugly sides of humanity. Even when some people aren’t as understanding, everything should be taken with a grain of salt because “nobody is perfect and everyone has bad days.” Vivian’s priority is to focus on staying positive and finding ways to bring joy to as many in the community as she can.
Talking to Vivian was an eye-opening and insightful experience for all of us at Jia! She brought joy and positivity to our lives during a pressing time and shared her world view as well. We aspire to be like her and focus on the positives, see the kindness and beauty in everyone, and go with the flow. Visit Joy Restaurant! They are open for takeout and delivery!
Visit Joy on York!
Location: 5100 York Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90042
Takeout: (323) 999-7642 | Delivery: Doordash, Postmates, Grubhub, UberEats, and more