Medford insurance agent hopes catering career will be a recipe for success
Editor's note: This is the second in a six-day series on ways local residents are reinventing themselves in hard times.
For more than 20 years, Ed Chun had a vision of owning a restaurant where he could serve up dishes with flavors from his childhood in Korea and Hawaii.
The former insurance agent didn't pursue his dream until forced to by the recession.
Chun's Sunrise Catering & BBQ was born out of misfortune. First, Chun had to sell his six-year-old insurance company, which began to suffer when the economy took a dive. Then he was laid off from a job with a title company.
"There is nothing better than to see people enjoy what I made," the Medford man says, observing four happy eaters feasting on a lunch of pulled pork, Huli-Huli chicken, rice, buns, cole slaw and a salad of greens and pears with Asian dressing and black sesame seeds.
"Mmm, it's delicious," says Rosalie Flores, a customer service supervisor at Washington Federal Savings on Delta Waters Road in Medford. "Do you want to come and move into my house?"
Chun, 43, sporting a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, an apron and a baseball cap with his new company's logo, just grins.
Two months ago, Chun was working for First American Title, a job he landed when an associate heard he was selling his insurance business. He launched his catering business part time, and his first customers were friends and other people he already knew. The business began to grow through word of mouth and evolved as people began to ask for specific dishes or services, he said.
Sunrise now offers catering for special events, and Chun works as a personal chef for some families a couple of nights a week. He delivers his signature $25 meals, which serve four to six people, to families' homes.
Chun doesn't yet earn what he did at the title company, but his wife, Susie, says she expects his income will match his salary at Great American Title by sometime in 2010.
Chun's bachelor's degree in marketing from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma (where he met Susie) has served him well in gathering customers. His business has a profile on Facebook and a Web site (www.bestpulledpork.com), which is still being developed.
He told everyone he knows about his situation and encouraged them to spread the word that he's the man to call for a home-cooked meal or catered food for the holidays or a party.
"Social networking is a huge part of my business," he says. "I get a lot of customer contracts via Facebook."
Energetic and talkative, Chun chats with his customers and tells them the story behind his catering business. The story captivates Dawn O'Brien, loan coordinator at Washington Federal, as she eats some of his Huli-Huli chicken. She says her husband, a former bank vice president, was laid off more than a year ago and still hasn't found a job.
"I can't wait to tell him about your story," O'Brien says. "It's really inspiring."
Chun's specialty dishes recall his childhood in Hawaii, where pork is a mainstay and Huli-Huli chicken is sold for school fundraisers. His family left Korea for Hawaii when he was 3. His parents worked whatever jobs they could find when he was growing up, and the family rarely had time to share meals together.
He said he cherishes the time he has for meals with Susie and their two children, Brandon, a seventh-grader at St. Mary's School in Medford, and Madeline, a third-grader at Grace Christian School in Medford.
Cooking is a longtime hobby for Chun. He cooks the majority of his family's meals.
"He has always loved cooking and has always done a lot of cooking at our church and for large and small groups of people," Susie says. "Whenever we go somewhere, he is the one that makes something to bring.
"I call him my crazy kitchen chemist," she says, because he frequently makes several different versions of one dish in an attempt to replicate something he's tried at a restaurant or to perfect his own creations.
When he was honing his recipe for macaroni salad, he made four different versions in a day and a half, she says. He continued the process during a trip to visit family in Hawaii.
"He probably ate a dozen and a half macaroni salads," she says. "He asked how they were made and learned the techniques used in the recipe."
Chun's cut in pay and the costs of buying catering equipment and materials have taken a toll on the family's finances, but he has found creative ways to save on expenses. He buys equipment online at Craigslist and reformulates his recipes to fit the way the ingredients he buys are packaged. He also leases time at commercial kitchens at two restaurants and a church.
"But on the flip side, I love what I'm doing," Chun says. "Every day when I get up I look forward to the day. I have the chance to do what I always wanted to do. It's been weird how it's all fallen into place."
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Ed Chun's e-mail address has been corrected in this story.