Why Most East Asians Are Lactose Intolerant


Story by SEAN CHUNG, M.D.

It’s been several hours since you enjoyed that delicious milkshake, and now your belly protests with rumbling, cramping — probable harbingers of flatulence and watery diarrhea quickly heading down the pipe, your pipe.

You could digest milk as a kid, so what happened to you? Why did you lose such a useful biological power?

Let’s start with some basics. Lactose is a sugar found in mammalian milk — the milk of cows, humans, even East Asians. It’s composed of two simpler sugars linked together.

Enzymes are proteins that behave like chemical factory workers in your body and are typically named with the suffix -ase. A particular enzyme will perform a specific function, like joining two molecules or splitting one apart. Lactase enzymes in your small intestines break down countless lactose molecules into glucose and galactose, which are small enough to be absorbed by your gut lining.

Unless you don’t have enough of this enzyme, that is. Most human children feature lactase in their intestines, which allows them during their breastfeeding years to digest milk produced by their moms. But some of us will experience a drastic decrease in the amount of this enzyme, often around age 5. This reduction is known as lactase nonpersistence. If the lactose isn’t reduced for absorption, it remains in the intestines, pulling in water from the rest of the body (hello, diarrhea) and being converted by our intestinal bacteria into unpleasant stuff, including lots of hydrogen gas.


Many East Asians and Native Americans, up to 90 percent in some ethnic groups, become lactose-intolerant after the early childhood years as their genes direct a slowdown in the production of lactase. A nearly opposite ratio of lactase nonpersistence exists in people of northern European descent, who can digest dairy throughout adulthood. Why the difference?

Those human cultures that relied on dairy as an important source of nutrition created a survival pressure on its members. Those individuals who could absorb lactose were more likely to survive and pass on their genes, including those for lactose digestion. The individuals who had trouble absorbing lactose experienced diarrhea, malabsorption of other nutrients, and were therefore more susceptible to disease and earlier death, reducing their chances to establish a lactose-intolerant family.

There are other ways to be lactose intolerant. Some persons have a genetic issue preventing production of lactase enzymes, even in infancy. Others may temporarily develop lactose intolerance during an illness affecting the bowel. Lactose intolerance is not the same as allergy to milk proteins, which is a problem of the immune system, not of lactase deficiency.

So how do the lactose intolerant navigate their way through a dairy-laden world? You can consume just small amounts of dairy at a time. You can veer toward cheese and yogurt, which tend to contain less lactose than milk. If you want milk, there is the option of buying milk pretreated with lactase that has broken down lactose into its constituent sugars; since you now have two sugars in place of every lactose molecule, lactose-free milk tends to be sweeter than regular milk, a bonus for those who have to pay extra for the lactose-free variety.

And you can buy over-the-counter lactase enzymes to consume along with your favorite dairy item, though be aware that the pills might not perfectly deconstruct every molecule of lactose present in your food — in other words, you still might experience some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance, though hopefully at a lesser intensity.

Lastly, the lactose intolerant can simply avoid dairy altogether. Today there is a multitude of dairy-free options that allow us to enjoy the taste of our favorite dairy items without suffering as some of our ancestors would have.

Dr. Sean Chung is an internal medicine physician based in Southern California.


KoreAm put together a list of some dairy-free alternatives to some of your favorite foods. 

This article was originally was originally published on iamkoream.com and in the October/November 2014 issue of KoreAm Journal.


Wanderlusting? Plan The Perfect Trip With Ruzwana Bashir’s PEEK


“I realized that I was a travel junkie because, even after visiting over 40 countries, from Iran to Cambodia, there were still so many other places I wanted to go,” says Ruzwana Bashir, founder and CEO of Peek.com. It explains why the 31-year-old, a woman clearly of many talents — the British Pakistani was the first woman of Asian descent to become president of the Oxford Union, was a Fulbright Scholar at Harvard Business School and worked as an investment banker in London — decided to start an online travel company that provides celebrity-curated travel recommendations and high quality activities and tours. Backed by tech giants like Jack Dorsey and Eric Schmidt, Peek allows real-time bookings on their app and website in 17 American cities, as well as London and Paris.

But it’s not just a to-do list — it’s the how-to-do list that’s key. Bashir has used her considerable influence (she was named in Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in tech list in 2012 and Silicon Valley’s Most Stylish in Vanity Fair) to cull from the famous and well connected their own personal recommendations and travel itineraries. Do a foodie crawl in San Francisco like Chinese American chef Brandon Jew; plan a perfect Napa Valley trip à la Japanese American model Devon Aoki; see Vegas the way ultimate Vegas insider Tony Hsieh of Zappos does; or experience “the closest thing to heaven on Earth” on Kauai’s north shore courtesy of Bloomberg’s Emily Chang.

“I travel to see awe-inspiring sights, to be enthralled by new cultures and to seek out those special experiences that end up being truly unforgettable,” says Bashir. She recommends that travelers “embark on adventures that push you out of your comfort zone, as these will help you learn about yourself and create fantastic memories that you’ll cherish forever.”





Audrey Magazine: What’s your favorite itinerary or activity on Peek right now?Ruzwana Bashir: I love views of beautiful landscapes, so my favorite experiences are floating over Napa in a hot air balloon and taking an amazing helicopter tour in Hawaii. Not only do you fly over the world’s most active volcano, you also enjoy stunning views of the hidden tropical valleys, lush rainforests and roaring waterfalls below.

AM: Where are two places you haven’t been to yet and are dying to go to?
RB: I’m really excited to head to the Okavango Delta in Botswana for a safari. I’m also desperate to visit Bhutan, to trek through the countryside, visit beautiful monasteries and immerse myself in a fascinating culture.

AM: Where are you off to next?
RB: This month I’m staying in the States, with visits to Aspen, Yellowstone Park and Lake Tahoe.

AM: Pick one: free clothes from your favorite designer for a lifetime or a trip around the world?
RB: Numerous research studies have shown that having experiences makes us twice as happy as buying products, so I would have to go for the trip around the world!

AM: You’re now based in San Francisco. Describe your own perfect day there.
RB: My perfect day in SF would include visiting the Ferry Building for breakfast, and then taking a seaplane over the Golden Gate Bridge for majestic views of the city. Then I would head to Golden Gate Park to see the California Academy of Sciences — at heart, I’m a geek who is obsessed with nature, so this place is a feast for the senses. Then I would have a pit stop at the Japanese Tea Garden, followed by Foreign Cinema in the Mission District for dinner with a film in the background. Finally, on my way home I’d stop by Bi-Rite for an ice cream sandwich.

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This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here




Korean Model and Actress Clara Lee Named Second Most Beautiful Woman in The World by “MODE Magazine”


South Korean model and actress Clara Lee was listed as the second most beautiful woman in the world on Oct. 28 by MODE Lifestyle Magazine.

Following American actress/model Tania Marie Caringi, Clara took second place on the magazine’s “100 Most Beautiful Women in the World 2014″ list. Meanwhile, German model Cristina Maria Saracut ranked third.

Aside from the top three, the list included Hollywood actresses Jessica Alba and Scarlett Johansson, Brazilian Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio, South African model Candice Swanepoel and American singer Beyonce.

According to MODE, Clara is the magazine’s first Asian cover model. “[Clara] has a refreshing image and bright personality. Her stellar performances in Korean movies, modeling and acting caught the attention of our U.S. judges, which led to her high ranking on the list,” said a magazine representative.

In response to the impressive title, Clara commented, “I’m grateful that people not only in Korea but also overseas are looking at me prettily with a good heart.  I want to make sure to relay my thanks to my fans both domestic and foreign through this opportunity.”

She also tweeted photos from the magazine.  


The 28-year-old celebrity comes from a unique background. Although she was born in Switzerland and educated in the U.S., she holds British citizenship. She starred in her first movie, Five Senses of Eros, in 2009 and skyrocketed into fame after throwing a ceremonial first pitch in a Korean professional baseball game in form-fitting leggings.

Photo courtesy of NEWSis

Photo courtesy of NEWSis

Clara has also appeared in numerous music videos, such as Jay Park’s “Joah” and Tei’s “Same Pillow.” She currently has more than half a million followers on her Facebook page.

You can view MODE’s “100 Most Beautiful Women in the World 2014″ list here.


This story was originally published in iamkoream.com


Get to Know Raggedy Threads Owner Jamie Wong



I’m nestled on a comfortable leather couch with my back against a World War 2 sweetheart pillow in the homeliest store I’ve ever been to: Raggedy Threads. The vintage store is situated in downtown LA’s little Tokyo and aside from unavoidable shopping, I’m here to interview the owner and my long-time friend, Jamie Wong.

This little store is a place unlike its surrounding neighbors. It’s the epitome of authentic vintage, including the storage door that is made out of 100 year old wood from a barn that was being torn down. Jamie describes it as her “little cabin in the woods.”

It’s been 12 years since Raggedy Threads opened its doors, so I sat down with Jamie to get the details on everything from surviving the recession to how vintage plays an important role in today’s trends.



Audrey Magazine: When did your love for vintage start?
Jamie Wong:
It started when I was really young. I’ve always been a rummager. Because I was such a hyper kid, my parents would grab a drawer full of random things and I would just dig through them and find things. The love of finding and hunting, whether it’s old or new, was exciting.


AM: You were quite young when you opened Raggedy Threads. How did the idea start?
I grew up in Pomona and in my area, there were some really good thrift stores. There was one particular thrift store that I just loved. The couple that owned it was from London and we became really good friends because I would go there all the time. One day, they asked me if I’d be interested in doing the Rose Bowl for them. I didn’t know that much about vintage, but I just picked the stuff that I liked and set up every month for them at the Rose Bowl back in 97’ and they gave me a commission on what I sold. This was where I learned a lot about vintage and the business. I did it for three months before I decided I could do it on my own.


AM: The recession hit not long after, how did you survive it?
It was hard. Vintage became really big in the Japanese market so I had a lot of design clients and a lot of Japanese clients. But getting the stuff was really difficult and I didn’t have a lot of money. Then the recession hit hard. I was struggling. It was the biggest hustle I had done in my life. I didn’t want to lose my business, plus I was stuck on a lease. I was selling any way I could, doing as many flee markets, calling people– the hustle. I made it through, barely, but I made it. I then got tipped off that there was this space in Little Tokyo that I have now. I ran down, saw it and rented the space. I love it. This is my 5th year here now.


AM: Who are your customers at Raggedy Threads?
It’s so diverse. I get some tourists, even 80-year-olds come here. Some people come in here and think it’s a museum! I love that I don’t have a target audience. I have all walks of life come here. I even have twelve year olds and their moms! I just sold a 1920’s dress to a 60-year-old for her book signing. I also had a band come in from Australia called,Boy and Bear and they bought stuff for their tour. They asked me to their show that night, so I went and I saw them performing wearing the clothes they bought that day.


AM: What is your favorite thing about selling vintage?
I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they find something. For me, it’s not about the money. It’s more about seeing pieces go to a good home because each piece is a story and the people I got them from have some incredible stories to tell. I also spend a lot of time restoring the pieces and bringing them back to life– I just love it. It’s so nice seeing people enjoying it too. It makes me happy that people like what I like.




AM: Where do you get most of your pieces? You must travel a lot.
Yes, now it’s all travel to find stuff. This year alone I’ve been to ten states and some multiple times. I never now just go on holiday. I always go with the intention of finding things. Some trips are just straight for business but when I do go on holidays, I’m always looking. My goal is to always go somewhere new every year, and one beach holiday. I’ve been accomplishing that!


AM: How much do current trends influence what you buy and how important is vintage in fashion today?
I actually do look at current trends and I have a lot of designers as customers and they come and buy for inspiration. So I like to see what they’re doing and what’s current. I have a lot of friends at WGSN (fashion forecasters) so I do keep up with that. As much as I hate going into stores, especially in malls, I have to see what they’re doing because they’re buying from me. I have to see what patterns are being used, what’s in this year, what colors I should look for. With vintage, you’re pretty trendy all year long, but there are always specific things. For instance, overalls and indigo’s are in this year! I’ve been selling them for a while, but it’s off the hook now. Also, my hat sales have gone up because of Pharrell. I’ve always sold hats, but right now, they’re so big!


AM: What are some of the other pieces you are currently selling?
Lately I’ve been really in to Victorian pieces. I have some from late 1800’s and 1940’s. I just think they’re beautiful and finding them and seeing the condition they’re in is amazing. Those pieces have become really popular too. Even the designers are buying them because of the lines and the lacing. Lace is really big now.


AM: Any other pieces you couldn’t let go of?
I am obsessed with flags because they are all so different. There are also specific hats that I won’t sell. Also my World War 2 pillows. I love them.


AM: Vintage has become so popular, but have you also seen a growth in the vintage market in Asia?
I’ve had a lot of customers from China. Since ‘Mood’ (a vintage store) opened up in Hong Kong, it’s really opened up the market to vintage. They like the college style or cartoon stuff. My Taiwan customers really like oversized military shirts. The vintage they tend to buy is more subtle though.


AM: I know you buy some Asian fashion brands. What are your favorite stores?
Kapital, a Japanese brand, is so inspiring to me. The patchwork and the way they stitch. I also like Visvim, a Hong Kong brand which is a very similar. I spend so much money in there!



AM: What is your favorite trend of all time?
T-shirts. They will never go away. And hats.


AM: Favorite era?
The 30’s and 40’s. I love the work behind the clothes. Also 70’s clothing across the board. The Harleys, the hippies, the bohos.


AM: What are your plans going forward?
I am working on my own line of women’s workwear but more tailored and not so masculine. I want to do a workwear line that has more of a feminine cut, less bubbly and billowy with good pleats. I also want to open up another store and a vintage accessories store with vintage hats and customized headbands. It would also be nice to eventually have a store for my own line. I just need to buckle down and do it!






Seoul Fashion Week: Street Style


Seoul Fashion Week continues its progression of non-stop runway shows and exhibitions, but a runway isn’t the only place to get some fashion inspiration in Seoul. Simply step outside and there’s interesting styles to be seen all around. A look at two of our favorite street fashion photographer blogs reveal what is favored by attendees of the six day event. Winter is quickly approaching and these fashionable individuals know how to stay warm while still looking amazing.

Layering numerous tops and sweaters under oversized coats seem to be loved by all for fighting off the chilly fall days. We still see the trend of pairing skirts and dresses with warm tops, but as always, people have their own way of presenting individual tastes and styling options, some even doubled up their outerwear. There is definitely a preferred color choice by SFW’s attendees, and black seems to be it. From black on black outfits to black pieces with pops of color, nearly every street style contained the dark hue.

Another major street trend appears to be leather. Leather and mixed-media garments and accessories have been favored for quite awhile, and continually make revamped appearances throughout fashion history. Seoul city dwellers provide an ample amount of inspiration for wearing leather, and even how to soften up the tough style with flowing blouses, subtle prints and casual wear.

Below are a few of our favorite street looks from Seoul Fashion Week.

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Image Courtesy of Iamalexfinch.net

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Image Courtesy Of Iamalexfinch.net

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Image Courtesy Of Iamalexfinch.net



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Image Courtesy of Imtedlike.com

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Image Courtesy of Iamalexfinch.net

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Image Courtesy of Iamalexfinch.net

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Image Courtesy of Iamalexfinch.net


Feature Image Courtesy of Imtedlike.com

Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Tokyo Recap: FACTOTUM


Designer Koji Udo continues with the tougher moto style trend while mixing in some military aesthetics and tailored fits for the FACTOTUM spring and summer 2015 presentation. The collection is named “Various Life”, which is fitting since the collections draws its inspiration from visited landscapes and people met along the way. All these layered elements that make up the world surrounding us is what Udo hopes to present in his clothing. Strong notes of denim and faded camouflage complement the light, khaki tones of bomber jackets and moto vests for his menswear collection. His line seems befitting to the current streetwear trends for fall and winter, but he plays it up with some colorful, punchy patterns for spring to avoid feeling completely washed out in neutrals.

While most designers end the runway shows with a finale of all their designs, FACTOTUM gave a graphic visual of antonyms. His always clean tailored pants were dressed with tee shirts bearing sayings like “Hope And Despair” and “Badness And Goodness.” These are all words that humans attach themselves to emotionally and are all a part of various lives.

Below are a few images of Udo’s spring and summer 2015 presentation for Tokyo Fashion Week.

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All photos courtesy of MBFW Tokyo.




Seoul S/S Fashion Week: Designer SONGZIO


Seoul Fashion Week began last week in Seoul, with top designers, including VanHard di Albazar, BYUNGMUN SEO, MOOHONG, Line OR Circle, SONGZIO and more. The first day of Seoul Fashion Week, which primarily showcased menswear, was undoubtedly a hit, but it appears that designer SONGZIO’s collection grabbed exceptional attention.

According to the official website, the SONGZIO philosophy is as follows:

“SONGZIO exemplifies Zio Song’s design identity: Aspiration. Aspiration is what represents SONGZIO’s ambition. Every single piece of clothing is a visualization of his inspiration. His work symbolizes the odyssey of a young master, referred to in Korean as 도령 (Doryung), who achieves his progressive ideals through his elegant yet fearless journey. The protagonist of the brand is the young master who is an elegant poet, a painter, an artist, whose oriental elegance SONGZIO interprets through it modern eyes.”

For the first day of Seoul Fashion Week, SONGZIO’s collection hit the runway with designs that emphasized unique stripe patterns and silhouettes using monochromatic hues, mainly black and white.

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His show also attracted attention when South Korean actor Cha Seung-won who was originally an in-demand fashion model before turning into a successful actor. It looks like his attention is back on the runway. Cha Seung-won took charge of the collection’s opening wearing a chic, all-black suit that was followed by other monochromatic designs with coral red and toned-down blue hues. The entire collection maintained unity under restricted colours.


Let’s take a look at some of his top designs.


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And the designer himself.

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(Photo Credit 1, 2, 3)



Audrey Column: Do’s & Don’ts of Wooing a Girl in This Day and Age


Gen X’s guide to wooing a girl may not apply in today’s dating world, where boys don’t bother to get out of their cars to pick you up on a date, let alone stand outside your window with his heart on his sleeve. So what should Millennial women expect in this day and age? Columnist Paul Nakayama tells it like it is.


I’m a product of the ’80s and ’90s, and John Cusack was the actor that captured the spirit of my ideas on romantic love. I mean, when Lloyd Dobbler raised that boom box up over his head in the 1989 film Say Anything, forget about it — I, too, wanted to win the heart of a girl with some grand gesture. And thusly inspired, I might’ve captured a few hearts, but I sure as hell screwed up the long game with them all on my own. Now I see my nephew, a young man influenced by the love stories of today, like (500) Days of Summer and Her, where love seems elusive, and then I see him trying to meet girls on Tinder and Instagram, where love is literally elusive. In the digital age, the world seems smaller than ever, but if these movies and dating apps are any indication, it’s still just as hard to make a connection with someone and just as easy to screw it up once you do. So I asked the younger female staffers and interns at Audrey Magazine to give me their list of Do’s and Don’ts of dating. For some, I’ll pass on to my nephew. For others, the women are going to have to modify their expectations. Let’s start with the Don’ts:



“DON’T play with your phone during a date. If your phone is more interesting than your date, you shouldn’t be on a date.”
Totally agree, but we should broadcast this to men and women alike. Nothing makes a meal lonelier than starting to eat by yourself while your dinner companion struggles to think of a clever hashtag for her food porn photo. Then again, I have a policy where I get to eat your food if you’ve taken a photo of it, and a minute passes and you still haven’t tasted it, despite having already half-written a Yelp review. Also, they say your cell phone has more germs than a toilet seat — why you bringing a toilet seat to a date, bro?

DON’T try to get to know me through text messages as opposed to in person. Or worse, try to have a serious conversation or an argument — you’re asking for miscommunication.”
Actually, I’m not sure if I agree. By getting to know someone via texts, it’s like the modern-day equivalent of knights and ladies sending each other poetically drafted love letters full of better intentions, but instead of squires making the delivery, you’ve got rapid-fire thumbs. And even back then, I’m sure the greatest of romances wouldn’t have survived if the heroic knight kept mistaking “your” for “you’re.” Also, nothing defuses a fight like a well-timed, innuendo-laced autocorrect.

“DON’T send me a text about a beautiful sunset or cute puppy and how it made you think of me, and then send the same text to your mom and a bunch of other people. I want to know you’re just into me.”
I completely agree. Two things about this one: One, never text anything to your mom that you’d text to your girlfriend. That’s just your therapy trying to undermine itself. And two, do you guys know how to eavesdrop on text messages? ‘Cause I could have fun with that.

“DON’T play more than two hours a day if you’re a gamer, and that’s the max! I’d prefer only an hour if I had it my way.”
No. We’ve seen our friends who are married, and we know that’s the fate lying ahead, so we’re going to play our thumbs off while we can.


And now for the Do’s:


“DO use technology to your benefit. If a guy knows how to pay attention, he can find out a girl’s interests and plan a date around that. Read her blog entries, then talk to her about something you find interesting in her writing. Her status says she’s been craving ice cream? Go and surprise her with some.”
What I like about this staffer’s suggestion is that it’s condoning stalking as long as it’s used for the greater good, e.g., ice cream. It also indirectly suggests that girls stalk, too, so I say use that to your advantage. You can blog or update your online status with stuff that might pique a girl’s interests, maybe something about how you want to study for your MCATs, but you can’t think over the sound of your abs rocking hard.

“DO come to the front door when you pick us up for a date. Don’t just sit in your car and text us that you’re here.”
Absolutely do this. But likewise, let’s all be ready on time. I remember waiting for my date too many times to count, trying to kill time on the couch or at the front door or even outside. At least in my car I’d have the AC and music to keep me company — rather than pretending to have a conversation with her toy poodle, which honestly would prefer sh-tting in my shoes.

“DO pick up the phone and ask her out on real dates. While technology is great for an initial contact with the person you’re interested in, relationships can’t live via text/emails/online messaging!”
I’m assuming this is directed towards the guys you actually like, instead of the suitors you’re not that into. Because, believe me, those of us who aren’t lucky in dating try every angle to get a date — phone calls, texts, emails, tweets, pokes, status comments, Likes (even when we don’t like what you’re posting), “random” run-ins (you said it was OK to stalk), even courier pigeons (but just one because we don’t want to seem overbearing.)

“DO call me before 10 p.m. to ‘hang out.’ I’m not waiting around for your call — I’ve got plans, too!”
Waitasecond. These guys that the Audrey staffers are talking about — it sounds like whatever they’re doing is working. They’re calling at 10 p.m. and the girls still agree to hang out? I would plan a date a week in advance and get cancelled on at the last minute. I think it’s time to stop watching sappy movies. In fact, staffers, can you check the status updates of these guys and tell me what movies they’re watching?



This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here


THE NORTH FACE Store in Korea Pranks Customers, Ad Goes Viral


The American outdoor product company The North Face, Inc. was initially designed for outdoor sporting goods. Their products deliver both functionality and style. However, for South Koreans, it means something else.

The North Face has gained wide-spread popularity among South Korean students, and is even seen as a fashionable “uniform.” Specific types of jackets, mainly the “puff jacket” and the “rain jacket,” are known to be the most popular designs that South Korean students purchase.

Unfortunately, all this popularity has also attracted negative attention as well. Students have found that many of them are being judged and stereotyped by their clothing choices. When it comes to The North Face, some student claim that wearing puff jackets makes others believe they are part of a gang.

For the sake of staying away from negative stereotypes, some students have stopped purchasing The North Face jackets. To counter this, the company has had to make some creative moves.

A Korean advertising agency working with The North Face created a prank for customers visiting the company’s pop-up store in South Korea through a promotion called, “Never Stop Exploring.”




A video of the prank shows customers casually shopping until the employees run out of the store, locking the customer inside. Suddenly, the floor shifts and begins disappearing beneath the customer, leaving them no choice but to use the rock-climbing wall to avoid the fall. The shopper are then told they have 30 seconds to jump and grab a jacket which suddenly dangles from the ceiling.

Not only did The North Face raise the spirits of their customers by making them jump and retrieve a free jacket, the promotion also represents the proper image of the company.

The viral video was published on September 30, 2014 and has over 4,530,000 views.






Mendocino Farms Takes Sandwiches to Greater Heights


The sandwich — one of the simplest kinds of food in the world, right? Just slap one ingredient or more in between two pieces of bread and there you have it. It doesn’t take a chef or a culinary superstar to make one. It’s something we all can make. But would a sandwich that you made have people lined up around the block?

Well, at the Southern California-based Mendocino Farms chain, which currently boasts eight locations, the sandwiches that co-founder and “Chief Sandwich Creator” Mario del Pero and Executive Chef Judy Han dream up do. And they do it with a sense of humor, judging from a few of the menu items: Drunk’n Goat on Highway 128 (chicken sandwich with goat cheese, brie and cranberry chutney), under the “Can We Be More Cheesy?” section, and a Sandwich Study of Heat (turkey avocado sandwich with smoked gouda, chili aioli and jalapeno relish) under “Classics.”

We spoke with Han and co-founder Ellen Chen to find out what magic ingredients make the family-run Mendocino Farms — del Pero and Chen are married — so popular. And we discovered that it is more than your appetite that they are skilled at satisfying. Actually, their “Eat Happy” approach starts even before your sandwich is served.


In a popular foodie destination like Los Angeles, everyone is always looking for that next brilliant idea. So why did Chen and her husband decide in 2003 that sandwiches would be where they would make their culinary mark? “We already had a fast-casual Asian concept, Skew’s Teriyaki,” says Chen. “When we sold it, we thought, what do we want to do next?”

They looked to northern Italy, where del Pero is from, for inspiration. There, leftover proteins from Sunday meals would find new life in a sandwich. “Sandwiches are kind of a vehicle for how they eat their food,” says Chen.

While the idea started with Italy, it developed more while they took part in something very American: Thanksgiving. “We were sitting around eating what is now our November to Remember [sandwich]: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, chutney … and I thought, if we could take all these proteins and make them higher-end, chef-driven sandwiches, that would be so great,” says Chen. “It was really the idea of the better category. There was Subway and Quiznos, but there was no next level up. We’re going to make the better sandwich.”

Now they needed a name.

“So there’s Napa, but that sounds so serious,” Chen recalls them thinking. “We still wanted a quirky quality to what we do. Mario used to vacation in Mendocino [north of San Francisco] when he was a kid. It’s beautiful coastal farm country and wine country, too.” So Mendocino Farms was born, giving a nod both to the fresh ingredients that come out of that area and her husband’s fond memories of family vacations spent there.


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Chef Judy Han joined Mendocino Farms about eight years ago, after the hectic schedule of working at fine dining restaurants (Sona, Literati II) meant too many holidays away from her first child when he was so young. “When I met Mario, his vision was really interesting, so I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’” remembers Han. “I had to get up at 4 a.m. in the morning, but I had weekends and holidays off.”

She operates out of their commissary in downtown Los Angeles, where they have a rigorous testing schedule: about two to three sandwiches a week, with possibly two to three variations on each of those recipes. And then a taste-testing panel of select people that includes Chen, del Pero and other upper management with discerning palates. Han notes that even “old favorites we bring back, we take a lot of time retesting. We have to make sure that we’re progressing.”

Inspiration for a sandwich can come from anywhere, and food memories often pop up and shape a recipe. Their recent Chef’s Special Korean BBQ Chicken sandwich was developed while Han was driving, thinking of chicken entrées she liked: “Korean fried chicken is not really well-known here and I was thinking of all the flavors.” And she says that their classic Farm Club sandwich “was based on the memory Mario had of when he first courted Ellen.”


From its inception, there’s been something very personal about Mendocino Farms. A lot of love and care is invested into everything from developing the sandwiches to the reception the moment you walk in. Hosts greet you as you enter — or, in the case of rush-hour lunch in the Valley with a line out the door, on the sidewalk — to introduce you to the menu, offer suggestions and take your order.

Once you reach the counter, there’s a deli case featuring a variety of tasty sides, such as their popular curry couscous and seasonal spicy Dijon potato salad, which you can sample for free before you order. “Everything is available for sampling,” says Chen. Ask for a sample of that roasted turkey or pulled pork tempting you behind the glass as you continue down the counter line, witnessing the “theatrics” of the sandwiches coming together. Once you hit the drinks area, try Han’s seasonal lemonade or that Eagle Rock IPA.

There’s much to appreciate about how Mendocino Farms operates, even before you get your sandwich. But when you do, you’ll likely sing their praises as hundreds before have: “absolutely per-ect,” “the best sandwich of my whole life,” and, in the case of this writer after trying the Kurobuta Pork Belly Bahn Mi on a panini-grilled ciabatta, “tastes like home … comforting, warm, delicious.”



Co-founder Ellen Chen, top, and Executive Chef Judy Han.

Co-founder Ellen Chen, top, and Executive Chef Judy Han.


This story was originally published in our Fall 2014 issue. Get your copy here.