Eva Chow Is Spreading Soju Energy

Eva Chow Is Spreading Soju Energy

By Paper MagazineApr 08, 2024

After decades of successful business ventures, Eva Chow's latest is her most personal yet. The entrepreneur — once referred to by The New York Times as "the culture queen of Los Angeles" — launched her soju company KHEE after reconnecting with her Korean roots. Once she started spending more time in Korea as an adult, Chow felt the strong urge to share the joy of soju with the United States, her home of many years.

"I wanted to create a bridge to connect both worlds," Chow tells PAPER. "It was obvious that the West needed to experience soju."

Chow is no stranger to the alcohol industry, having introduced Mr. Chow's eponymous wines after overseeing the restaurant empire for many years. But KHEE is a venture much closer to Chow's heart. Chow was born in Seoul; starting the soju company has been a major part of re-establishing her bond with Korea.

PAPER caught up with Chow to discuss the challenges and rewards of bringing soju to American audiences, below.

Why did you choose soju?

I want to introduce soju to the world. I left Korea as a young teen and didn't really spend much time in Korea until decades later. I wanted to go back to my roots, so I started spending time in Korea, where Korean food and drinks became a big part of my life. Many do not know that Korean soju is the best-selling alcohol in the world, yet it is only slowly catching on in the US — which is why I started KHEE. I wanted to create a bridge to connect both worlds; it was obvious that the West needed to experience soju.

KHEE means "energy" in Korean. What's the significance of "energy" to you and to the business?

KHEE (氣) means “energy” in Korean, like "chi." KHEE is derived from my Korean name “HEE” and middle initial “K” to form KHEE, which connects with my beliefs in good energy. It's also a play on words and sounds so much like “key” — KHEE for the "KEY" moments.

How would you describe the experience of drinking soju to someone who's never had it before?

Soju, in general, can be best described as neutral in taste. Unlike most other spirits or soju, KHEE has an exceptionally clean taste. It is a pure, distilled liquor because it is made from the finest rice, water and yeast only and contains no artificial additives and is gluten-free. KHEE has two types of premium soju. KHEE 38 starts with a rich aroma like wine and ends with a strong mineral taste. It is so smooth; it balances out the rice scent perfectly. Then we have KHEE 22, which has a delicate scent of flowers and a silky texture. It has a unique soft aroma with a subtle fruitful taste that lingers in the mouth. Both products have so much versatility. It can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or mixed into any cocktail. Not only that, I like to drink KHEE knowing that the morning after, I will wake up without a hangover.

Are you finding that Americans have a taste for soju, now that it's a bit more readily available?

Some Americans that have experienced soju are probably only used to the diluted soju, which is very different than distilled soju — from the ingredients to how it is processed. Which is the reason why I created KHEE. I want Americans to taste distilled soju, which is not only the traditional way — but it is also better for you. I think soju is very ready for the broader audience as Americans are embracing Korean culture; it is not just made for Koreans. I want Americans to drink KHEE soju like they would vodka, tequila, gin or other popular spirits. It is versatile and it compliments very well with all cuisines during all occasions.

What's your favorite way to drink soju?

It really depends on my mood and what occasion it is. But I personally like to drink KHEE straight or in a highball, as it is easy to mix at home. I typically like to mix KHEE soju with soda water, lime or lemon. You can’t go wrong with that.

What else do you have in store this year?

Since the launch of KHEE soju at the end of 2021 in Seoul, KHEE has expanded to the US market in California, Florida, Indiana, Nevada and New York in 2023. The goal is to expand to the rest of the country and get our product in front of consumers. We are doing a lot of exciting marketing activations in the upcoming months. So definitely expansion is KHEE. Also, coming soon, I am very excited to release in the US a one-of-a-kind product — KHEE Spray — an edible fragrance that can be used to enhance flavor and add style to any cocktail or dessert.

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

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