No stranger to the restaurant business, Lee’s mother, Yesoon Lee, also chef at Mandu, owned a sandwich shop in Old Town Alexandria, VA in the 1980s, and in the late ‘90s, a Charlie Chiang Kwai takeaway store at Reagan National Airport. It was at Charlie Chiang Kwai that Lee learned the basics of running a food establishment. He cemented his restaurant knowledge at Oceanaire, where he worked under Chef Rob Klink who trained him both on the managerial and the culinary side of the food business.
In 2006, Lee and his mother decided to open their own restaurant, one that played to their strengths and represented their culinary traditions and culture. They opened Mandu’s first location near Dupont Circle in November 2006 and five years later, the second one in DC’s Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood.
Since opening Mandu, Lee has cooked across the country as well as internationally. In 2015, Lee represented Washington, DC, at a national culinary competition promoting the use of heritage breed pork and responsible farming. In the Fall of 2016, Lee traveled to London for two weeks to showcase a Korean tasting menu as the resident chef of Carousel Restaurant. Lee was also featured in the Washington Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 List in 2016 as a leading local business leader.
Mandu has won “Best Korean” in the Washington City Paper annually since 2010 in addition to being featured in several local and national publications. Mandu was also recognized as a recommended restaurant in the Michelin Guide’s premier Washington, DC issue in 2016. In 2017, Mandu was nominated for Best Casual Restaurant for the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s annual RAMMY Awards.
Mandu and Lee have been featured in several national and local publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Men’s Health, Lucky Peach, Washington Post, Washingtonian, and many more.