I-Ho’s Korean Grill

Maggie Hudlow

With the shelter-in-place order, I have been doing a ton of cooking lately, and I am ecstatic to eat something that I haven’t prepared. Maybe it’s my spice drawer or perhaps it’s my technique, but all of my cooking is starting to taste the same. I decide to stop by I-Ho’s Korean Grill (pronounced E-Ho’s) to grab some take-out food for lunch. They have a to-go window set up right now, with a slightly limited menu and all you have to do is call in your order ahead of time to pick up and drive away with it. It’s the best kind of fast food.

As I drive away with a bowl of ramen nestled in my cup holder and a to-go box filled with fall-off-the-bone Korean chicken wings and cucumber salad, my mouth instantly starts watering. This is the ultimate test of my strength: Can I make it home without snacking? I am a serial car-muncher. I’m the kind of person who will order Pad Thai to go and shamelessly eat most of it with my hands, arriving home covered in peanuts, cilantro, and bits of rice noodle. The wings are within my reach; I must resist. I look at the hand sanitizer in the center console and think well, maybe I could just sanitize my hands and eat just one wing.

If you truly love wings, you know there is no such thing as just one wing. And if you have ever had the wings from I-Ho’s, you know it’s impossible to stop at one. So, I persevered; it was a mental battle, but I made it home, washed my hands, took a picture, and instantly downed three wings. I don’t believe a breath was taken between them. They are sweet, savory, and unbelievably tender. A few days later, owner I-Ho Pomeroy was kind to chat with me on the phone about I-Ho’s Korean Grill and how they are dealing with the strange times we currently face.

Maggie Hudlow: How are you dealing with the shelter-in-place mandate?

I-Ho Pomeroy: We are surviving! Fortunately, the restaurant already had the infrastructure for a drive-through window and the transition has been relatively easy. We have reduced our menu, so we don’t have a few things like seafood and teriyaki chicken, but we still have lots of healthy and delicious food to provide the community!

MH: How was I-Ho’s Korean Grill conceptualized?

IP: About 23 years ago, my husband built me a food cart so I could sell Korean food, that I learned how to make from my mother, here in Bozeman. I started on East Main in front of what is now Townshend’s Tea House on the weekdays and attended lunch on the Emerson lawn and farmer’s markets on the weekends. It went very well, and I was able to move into a restaurant. I started in the building that is now Granny’s Donuts, then moved to a location on Lincoln St, and am now at the current location on West Main. We are always progressing, now selling Kimchi in seven grocery stores around town and providing take-out for the moment.

MH: What makes I-Ho’s Korean Grill unique in the Bozeman food scene?

IP: Our motto!
1. Employee safety and happiness: because good food is made with love and everything here is made from scratch!
2. Customer elation: we want our customers to be more than happy with our food.
3. Community well-being: this is a relationship; we serve good, healthy food because we want a healthy community!

MH: What do you want people to experience when they walk through your doors?

IP: Kindness and generosity. We show this by making everything from scratch and it is returned by our customers. Common people enjoy our food and they reciprocate this with so much generosity.

MH: What item do your regulars keep coming back for?

IP: Right now, we are trying to focus on how we can contribute best to our community’s well-being. The tofu Kimchi pancake is very good for the immune system, so we are promoting that. Anything that is fermented, like Kimchi, really is really great for the immune system. We also have Kim-Chi-Che-Gar which is Kimchi soup and Den-Jang-Che-Gar which is a fermented soybean soup, both are very good options for the present moment.

MH: What do you enjoy most about being part of the Bozeman community?

IP: We love being part of the Bozeman community. Thank you for all of your support! We would not be here without our customers. On Thursday, April 9th, Dr. Suzanne Wood and Dr. Arlis Wood bought meals for all the police officers working that day. Together we were able to feed 33 officers! We are very fortunate to live in this place with a community filled with such kind and generous people.

MH: Do you have anything upcoming that you want readers to know about?

IP: Yes! We should be having a fundraiser for a warming center with the HRDC that is funded through donations, possibly in November. Right now, we are giving free meals to front line workers from the hospital and EOC people until the end of the lock down.

After hanging up the phone with I-Ho, I experienced the same sort of warm, fuzzy feeling in my tummy that I usually only get after speaking to my Grandma. I believe this feeling comes from knowing there are good-hearted people making good-hearted food and that actually has the capacity to make a positive change in the world. We are definitely surviving! Customer elation! Community well-being! Her statements of adamant positivity popped through my head all afternoon, making me smile, easing my anxieties, and simultaneously fueling my hunger for more Korean food.

I was skeptical of the tofu kimchi pancake, I admit. But, I-Ho insisted that it’s very good, so I figured I better go back, give it a shot, and order another $50 worth of takeout while I’m there. Well, despite how delicious the chicken wings are, how perfectly sticky the rice is, and how refreshing the cucumber salad is, I think the tofu kimchi pancake may be my new favorite thing on the menu. I admit to liking tofu and kimchi in moderation, but this doesn’t necessarily taste like either; it’s an entirely new experience. The tofu almost acts like scrambled eggs (minus the egg-y flavor) binding together all of these perfectly al-dente vegetables and the outside is a nice crisp golden brown. The melding of textures and flavors is undoubtedly delicious and the sauce with green onions really puts the dish over the top. It’s hard to believe healthy can taste so good!

I-Ho’s love for Korean food is apparent when you eat it: this is comfort Korean food. And as she told me, good food is made with love! Her care for this community is so very apparent. It’s reassuring to know that despite the world being flipped on its axis for the moment, we have strong willed women like I-Ho to aid in fortifying the bonds that make us a whole, healthy community. Even though we are distanced, we are one, Gallatin Valley.  

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