At first glance, it looks like the long line snaking out of a storefront at the corner of Weyburn and Broxton avenues in Westwood consists of folks answering the siren song of Stan’s Donuts’ legendary Reese’s Peanut Butter Pocket.
Don’t be fooled. Sure, Stan’s remains the doughnut of choice for generations of Bruins. But the daily denizens of that line, seeking healthier fare, are there to grab a meal at the Flame Broiler, the Korean-style rice bowl spot that co-habits with the venerable bakery.
The Flame Broiler, conceived by Young Lee ’84, now totals 185 franchises and counting. Lee enrolled at UCLA at his father’s behest to become a dentist — which had been his father’s own dream. But Lee had other plans.
He graduated with a degree in economics and began selling life insurance. But the salesman’s life — filled with stress and fast-food meals — took its toll, and Lee developed a series of health problems. He left the insurance business to manage a dental lab owned by his wife, and while driving around meeting with dentists, he happened upon a Santa Ana spot selling everything from burgers and fries to wontons and fried shrimp. Lee says he looked at the menu and thought, “Well, let me try the teriyaki. But as I was eating, I’m talking to myself: Wouldn’t it be nice if they just got rid of the skin, eliminated the frying and gave me a little more veggies?”
That random notion became the blueprint for the Flame Broiler: Korean barbecued chicken, beef and tofu served over white or brown rice, with or without steamed vegetables.
Lee admits that he’s regularly contacted by private equity interests who “want to inject $10 million or $20 million so we can grow further,” but he’s not interested. “We’re not about money here today,” he explains. “We were content with one unit. Today, we only grow by demand. We were in one state, now we’re in five, all by demand only. It’s organic growth.”
The Flame Broiler also enables Lee to express his faith through philanthropy. “We sponsor children, two per store, providing everything that they need — clothing, shoes, food and education,” he says. “We only have so many years here on Earth — then what? That’s the question everybody should have.”