SEOUL, South Korea A South Korean businessman plans to begin a fried chicken delivery service in North Korea, believed to be the first foreign-run restaurant in a country that struggles to feed its own people.
Choi Won-ho, head of a fried chicken franchiser that has about 70 shops across South Korea, said Friday he is opening a 50-table chicken restaurant in Pyongyang on Nov. 15 that also would deliver chicken and beer to homes by phone order.
"I don't think that I'm going to lose money at all," Choi said by telephone, laughing off concerns that his venture may be too risky in the impoverished country of 23 million, where the elite citizens of the capital are much better off than others.
It will be the first foreign-run restaurant in North Korea, according to an official of South Korea's Unification Ministry who spoke on customary condition of anonymity citing office policy.
Choi, 48, who has been in the fried chicken business for 15 years, said about 20 North Koreans will work at the restaurant and five scooters will be used for deliveries, he said.
Choi said he invested about $550,000 in the joint venture with a North Korean trading firm that will take 30 percent of profit from the business.
"I have wanted to be the world's best chicken brand. But I thought it makes no sense to conquer the world without sharing food with our compatriots. That's why I went there first," he said. "I plan to get into the Chinese market via Pyongyang."
North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and has relied on foreign food aid to feed its population for more than a decade since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy.
Relations between the two Koreas have improved significantly since their first-ever summit in 2000, spurring a series of exchange projects between the Cold War rivals that fought the 1950-53 Korean War. That conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the two sides still technically at war.