Project Description

Grilled Octopus

A trip to Busan’s original Heeyanae Grilled Octopus

There is something different about restaurants that people rave about. The one thing that these restaurants have in common; they all differentiate themselves from their competition. Heeyanae Grilled Octopus was founded in Busan merely a year ago, and they are opening franchise stores all across the country. They too have differentiated themselves to rise above the competition. Many people think there is nothing really special about ‘Spicy Octopus’ when they first hear it, but once they taste it, it’s a different story.
Editor & Photo 황정호

The late night atmosphere of Heeyanae Grilled Octopus located at Bujeon-dong, Seo-myeon, was quite different from other restaurants that were preparing for closing. The place was packed with customers as if it was dinnertime, and the restaurant was filled with a sweet scent of charcoal fire. I took a closer look and noticed that they don’t even use charcoal. In one corner, there was a pile of peculiar looking grill plates. The atmosphere itself was enough to draw me in.

A collaboration between an art teacher and a dental technician
People say that the facial expressions of those who pursue their dreams are quite different from those who do not. Jin Kwang Kim, the owner of Heeyanae Grilled Octopus is one of those people. He’s been married for 8 years, loves his wife dearly, and says that he used her wife’s name to make the business name. But why ‘octopus?’ Mr. Kim began to share his story.
“I was actually running a business as a dental technician, and my wife was an art instructor. We both love eating octopus, and we cooked it at home regularly. As you know most octopus restaurants use an iron plate to cook it. We used to do the same, but one day we thought, ‘why don’ t we try cooking it directly over the fire?’ We did, and it was amazing. So we came up with this business idea.”
Their first restaurant located in Yangjeong, Busan was roughly 50m2. They’ve relocated to Seomyeon in September of 2012. The few customers they had became regulars, and the regulars brought more customers. The business took on an explosive growth and they were able to open two restaurants under direct management: one in Taehwa and another in Seomyeon. Now, they have 27 franchise restaurants all across the country. All of these things happened in just 15 months.

Attractive food also tastes better
I asked what their secret was. Mr. Kim paused for a second and began to speak. Their secret is to lightly grill the octopus over direct flame for full barbeque flavor. I noticed a charcoal brazier at the front door of the restaurant where they lightly grilled the octopus. But more important than that, the sauce is what really makes the difference.

“Octopus has a very high water content. It was crucial to make the sauce permeate the octopus, rather than having it ‘washed out.’ It was very difficult, and we made many misjudgments. The sauce recipe has to remain confidential. (laughter).”

That’s not it, there was more. The third secret to their success was the peculiar-looking grill plate. When served, the marinated octopus is placed neatly on the grill plate. The gas flames continue to burn, but strangely, the octopus does not get charred. What is interesting is that the flavor transitions in three stages; when it enters the mouth, while chewing, and after swallowing.

“You won’t be able to find the octopus that we use in our store because it’s not imported in Korea. It is very costly to get, but its texture is completely different. There are many competitions who try to mimic what we do, but they won’t be able to because the ingredient itself is different.”

While we were talking, the octopus was well cooked. I devoured a piece of octopus with a shot of soju, and I had nothing else to ask for. The restaurant was still packed with customers, and the night in Busan grew deeper.