Creating the Cloud on the Mountaintop

Tshering Tashi and Lee Yeonji are the driving force behind San Maru—Thimphu’s only Korean restaurant that has been wildly successful for years. Their continual popularity in the restaurant business has many customers and food-lovers wondering, what exactly does it take to make a restaurant such as San Maru a hit?

by Hannah Park

When we sat down with Tshering Tashi and Lee Yeonji to know the story behind the restaurant, we were surprised to discover that the couple had not undergone any former culinary training or formal experience in managing a restaurant. Tashi and Yeonji were college students studying in Bangalore. It was from working in a coffee shop that they found a love for food. As the couple began to interact with the customers who frequented the coffee shop, they received overwhelming encouragement and support for their desire to explore the Korean culinary realm.

The ambition to open up a Korean restaurant grew, until finally, the couple decided to take a risk —and hence, San Maru was created. Tashi and Yeonji eventually decided on opening their restaurant in Thimphu due to the fact that Tashi was born in Thimphu, and hence felt more comfortable operating a business there. The couple picked the name San Maru for their restaurant, as San Maru in Korean signifies a cloud resting on a mountain peak. With this peaceful imagery, the couple wanted to create an enjoyable environment where people could come to relax and rest. The extremely humble and sincere couple emphasizes the support and encouragement of their customers as one of the main components of their restaurant.

When asked to identify one unique aspect of San Maru that makes it stand out from other restaurants in the area, the couple confesses, “I truly feel that, we are really thankful to our customers for accepting the way we serve as we don’t come from a professional background, and because of that we feel deeply responsible to serve the best we can for our customers”.

Behind the overwhelming success of this restaurant, even more so due to the fact that its owners have had no prior culinary experience, Tashi and Yeonji admit that managing and maintaining a restaurant for several years can be taxing. One of their biggest challenges lies in their limited menu selection. Many restaurants, in an attempt to draw as many customers as possible, will offer a variety of dishes and cuisines. San Maru has developed a unique clientele in the sense that, although they serve seemingly fewer dishes than other restaurants, each dish is cooked to perfection and will leave its customers coming back for more. A particularly popular dish with customers is their spicy pork, as well as their Bibimbab, a signature Korean dish.

Tashi and Yeonji have proved that marriage and work life can be seamlessly integrated. They disclose that, “We strongly believe that working together makes things better for us.” After years of operating, the couple reflects on the lessons and insights that San Maru has taught them. “Always being faithful and thankful to our customers,” they recollect, as well as, to “always serve your customers the best you can” have been invaluable lessons.

When asked about what their favorite aspect of managing San Maru is, Tashi and Yeonij reveal that “Getting to meet different people and to see them enjoying,” are the most rewarding. The interactions and deep connection that the couple feels for San Maru’s customers is perhaps one of the reasons why the restaurant has maintained such consistent success. The sincerity that Tashi and Yeonji feel for their customers translates into the home-cooked taste and feel of their food.

San Maru has certainly shaped Tashi and Yeonji’s lives, as they, in turn, have certainly impacted their customers with their impeccable cuisine. When asked about what San Maru means to them —the customers, the food, the challenges and rewards– Tashi and Yeonji unwaveringly declare, “It is us.”

For more details on the restaurant go to www.zhimmey.com

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