ROC Playa Vista’s devotion to the delicacy springs from an entrepreneur’s passion for Chinese food
By Jessica Koslow
“Alot of people ask, ‘Are you going to get a sign?’” says James Kim, owner of ROC, a new Chinese restaurant in Runway at Playa Vista.
It’s unusual for a restaurant to forgo signage. But, according to Kim, this wasn’t a deliberate decision. His first location, which opened in 2012 on Sawtelle Boulevard, doesn’t have a sign either.
While the name ROC (pronounced R-O-C) doesn’t stand for anything in particular, Kim’s culinary concept is clear: He wants to serve all types of his favorite Chinese food under one roof.
“With Chinese food, you typically have to go to different restaurants to get certain dishes, like soup dumplings or scallion pancakes,” he says. “I wanted to bring everything I liked into one restaurant.”
Which means you can order soup dumplings, a scallion pancake, crab fried rice and a beef roll — all in one place.
Kim is a first-generation Korean-American, but he loves Chinese food. He grew up in the restaurant business in New York, where his father distributed restaurant equipment, and during college he worked as a cook. Even in elementary school, Kim was busy making cupcakes and selling them for 75 cents a pop. Since he only had to lay out money for the box of Pillsbury cake mix, his earnings added up to nice pocket change for video games and candy.
As early as the late 1990s, Kim and his wife, who is Chinese-American, started throwing around the idea of opening a restaurant. It was around this same time that Kim had his first experience with soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai, a small chain in New York.
“Their dumplings taste good, but they’re heavy and not refined,” says Kim. “Then my wife introduced me to Din Tai Fung out here.”
When Kim and his wife moved from New York to L.A., they often found themselves driving an hour or so to the San Gabriel Valley to find the perfect pan-fried dumplings, scallion pancakes or dandan noodles. They began to realize there was a lack of good-quality Chinese restaurants that served all of those great dishes under one roof, and the concept for ROC was born.
From there, it was only a matter of time before Kim would open his own Chinese restaurant. Sawtelle seemed like the perfect fit.
“With the diverse mix of Asian restaurants, I had a feeling Sawtelle would be a good starting point,” he says. “We didn’t know what the response would be, since there were no soup dumplings on the West Side, but it was an instant hit.”
Word spread quickly and crowds started pouring in, including many entertainment studio executives and actors. ROC acquired more space next door and doubled in size just after one year. Next came ROC Beverly Grove on West Third Street, near the Beverly Center.
ROC Playa Vista is Kim’s third restaurant, but he’s had an eye on this neighborhood for quite some time.
Kim’s other passion is filmmaking, and he saw the neighborhood’s potential while shooting a scene for one of his short films here years ago. So when Santa Monica-based chain Veggie Grill decided to pull its plans to open in
a location Runway, he jumped at his chance to take over that space.
Unlike his overlooking a sign for ROC, Kim is very deliberate about most of his decisions. He rarely does interviews. He chose to have an open kitchen because it “makes the food taste 100% better,” he says. And he never wanted to run a chef-driven restaurant.
Instead, Kim prefers to “cut out the ego or one person taking credit,” he explains. “I know you can’t do it without a team.”
A man on a soup dumpling mission, Kim plans to open even more locations. There are also new dishes — like fresh noodles — and new design features in the pipeline for ROC Playa Vista.
“Here we get everyone from kids to grandparents who like our food,” Kim says. “You just have to be happy with what you produce, because not everyone has the same taste buds.”
ROC is at 12775 Millennium Drive, Ste. 110, on the southwest side of Runway at Playa Vista (across from Da Kikokiko). Reach the restaurant at (424) 835-4777.