Percussionist With a Full Plate
Faculty Member, NSO Musician Opens Restaurant in College Parkby Carly Taylor ’19 | Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle
Eric Shin indulges his passion for percussion as a faculty member in the School of Music and principal percussionist in the National Symphony Orchestra. But growing up in a food-loving Korean-American family led him to take on a new kind of gig.
In 2016, Shin founded SeoulSpice, a restaurant that serves what he calls Korean comfort food with a fast-casual twist. He opened the third location in College Park’s Terrapin Row in November after hearing comments from students and other community members about a need for more diverse dining options. Terp asked him how he keeps a steady beat, even if his grandmother doesn’t always approve of his flourishes.
How have your Korean-American roots influenced your vision for SeoulSpice?
The one thing that stayed true throughout my whole childhood is the food. That’s the one part of my culture that I’m most comfortable with. I look around and see Chinese food becoming a thing, Japanese food, but I don’t see Korean food out there as much as I would like. We’re trying to preserve the cultural ties and that authenticity and bring it forward in a modern way.
What have you learned as a restaurant owner along the way?
When we first opened, we had no idea what to expect. When we made our sauces, we made, like, five blenders full of each sauce, thinking that’ll get us through lunch. About 30 minutes before we opened, there was a line around the block. We ran out of food by 2 p.m. So figuring out how to scale food was something that took a really big learning curve. As someone who loves to cook, I’m so used to doing dinner parties, but now we’re prepping and serving over a ton of chicken every week.
How do you balance your time as a professor, musician and restaurateur?
In the beginning, it was really difficult. It wasn’t uncommon to stay until 3 or 4 a.m., go home to take a quick nap, come back at 6 a.m. and then have to be at the Kennedy Center by 9 a.m. My wife was extremely helpful—there were days a grill cook would call out and my wife would come in and cook while I was in the back doing dishes. Now, my schedules at UMD and at the orchestra really go hand in hand. At the restaurant, I’ve been really fortunate to have a great staff to rely on so anything I have to deal with is not time-sensitive.
The cilantro-lime sauce served at SeoulSpice is uniquely non-Korean. What’s the story behind that?
When I was living in Houston, a buddy of mine got me addicted to it and I started putting it on Asian food. My grandma always tells me I have to take it off the menu, but that one’s definitely going to stay.
Take a listen to this arrangement by Shin:
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