This St. Paul Chef’s Got Seoul

Chef John Gleason poses in a kitchen at the University of St. Thomas, where he graduated in 2002 with a degree in marketing and management. (Courtesy Ayomide Adesanya)

From sunrise to sunset, John Gleason has business on his mind. Gleason is responsible for everything from cooking to paying the bills to creating new menu items at Bap and Chicken, his first and newly opened restaurant on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  

Gleason was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised by his adoptive parents in South Minneapolis. His restaurant’s cuisine combines his South Korean heritage with his upbringing: Think rice bowls and cheese curds.  

While he’s dreamed of being the boss in the kitchen since he was a child, it’s a lot of work and he’s never been busier. 

ThreeSixty Journalism sat down with Gleason to learn about a typical day for the  restaurateur.  

6:30 a.m. – Rising from his bed in the morning, Gleason spends some time going over the sales from the day before. He also checks his emails and text messages to make sure “the ball is rolling in the right direction.” From there, he takes his dog, Percy, a chocolate Lab mix, for a walk.  

9 a.m. – Arriving at Bap and Chicken, Gleason and his team of four to seven staff members start by eating breakfast together and discussing a plan for how the shift is going to go. At the same time, Gleason is checking the restaurant’s food supply orders, making sure they arrive early and are ready to go for the day. He also checks in with the workers at the front and back of the restaurant, verifying they are in communication about the specials and seasonal vegetables that will be on the menu.  

10 a.m. – One hour before opening, Gleason runs through the checklist. “We have a lot of checklists,” Gleason said. “And it really might seem like, hey, you do the same things every day. But checklists are important to make sure that you know you don’t miss something. Because sometimes when you’re in a routine, it is easy to miss something because you’re so used to it you just miss it, or you take it for granted.”  

11 a.m. – Bap and Chicken opens. Gleason splits his time between greeting customers and cooking during the lunch hour, which goes until 2 p.m. 

3 p.m. – Gleason and his team prepare for the dinner rush. “We make sure that we clean up and restock,” said Gleason, adding that he makes sure to do all the orders for the next day if there are any. 

4 p.m. – First-shift workers head home. Second-shift workers begin their day and take over. Gleason recharges. “I kind of start to do the same thing,” he said. “Check in with all the employees. If there’s any prep that has to be done still, talk to them about, ‘OK, this still needs to get done.’”  

Gleason also makes sure to communicate with staff about specials, features and any late deliveries that are coming to the restaurant.  

5 p.m. – After a final pre-dinner cleaning and going through the dinner checklist, the staff gathers for a meeting and begins to welcome the evening rush of customers.  

7 p.m. or 8 p.m. – After the dinner rush, Gleason gets his staff into prep mode again. “We’ll clean up. We’ll restock. Do whatever cleaning needs to get done. And make sure that the next day is ready,” Gleason said. “At night, we go through and see what we have on hand and see what needs to get prepped for the next day. And then we clean up and get out of there.”  

If that doesn’t sound stressful and exhausting, Gleason still has to make time for staff scheduling, paying bills, forecasting for the week and month, and answering up to 50 emails and 20 phone calls a day.  

“I think staying busy is fun,” Gleason said. “I like the challenge.”  

When he arrives home, Gleason gets most creative. He is always developing new menu items. 

A few months after the restaurant’s opening, the reviews are pretty good.  

One Minneapolis resident wrote on Yelp that her pork belly bulgogi “had lots of depth to the flavor and fresh tasting. We will definitely be back to try more of the items on the menu.” 

Another patron from St. Paul gave it five stars for its updated and lively decor and great customer service. 

“The goal of Bap and Chicken is to really be a strong part of the neighborhood, to serve great food, to have every guest that comes in leave happy. And if it becomes bigger than that, that’s OK. But if it doesn’t, that’s OK as well,” Gleason said.