Workers assemble the ingredients for spicy beef and vegetable soup pouch at the Chang Tuh facility on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Korean pop music (or K-Pop) acts are selling out U.S. stadiums. A Korean film was named best picture at last year’s Oscar awards. Now, Salem is the springboard for a Korean company hoping to capitalize on Americans’ embrace of cuisine from the East Asian country.

Chang Tuh Corporation is in the midst of a $17 million expansion of its facility on Northeast Claxter Road in an industrial area of the city. The expansion will allow the company, which has been quietly operating in Salem for nearly two decades, to take advantage of the expanding palate of the average American.

With the sound of saws from construction ringing in the background, Won Jung, Chang Tuh’s operations manager, said the company was created in Salem in 1994 by Sam Park, a Korean restaurateur who came to Oregon to turn its potato crop into French fries to send back home. Park ended up also starting a food processing facility in Salem.

Jung explained that the company originally started making dried noodles and broth to export to Korea. It later expanded to making packaged ready-to-eat meals of traditional Korean soups, he said.

Sold under the PK brand, its bulgogi stew with mushrooms, stir-fried pork and kimchi can be found in Asian food specialty markets, including a handful in the Portland metro area.

“Right now, we're trying to expand our business to mainstream consumers,” said Jung. 

That could include stores like Fred Meyer, he said, and its spicy beef and vegetable soup will be available in Costco stores. Each meal comes in a sealed pouch that can be poured into a bowl and microwaved.

Chang Tuh, whose name means “farmers market” in Korean, is a subsidiary of Shinsegae Food Family Corporation based in Seoul, South Korea. Jung said after Chang Tuh was acquired by the company two years ago it began investing money into the Salem facility for an expansion.

Jung said the company sees opportunity as Americans have become more open-minded about trying food from different countries after the proliferation of cooking shows and the Food Network. He said Chang Tuh has gotten positive feedback on its products over the years, and the expansion will be a money-maker.

“We’re really just so proud of what we’re doing,” he said. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for us to introduce our food.”

He said that the spicy beef and vegetable soup, flavored with red pepper and chili paste, is very representative of Korean food and is a good introduction for someone wanting to try it. Other products include green onion, oyster mushrooms and Korean soy sauce, he said.

Jun-Sung Lee, Chang Tuh’s general manager, said the company has about 25 employees and will add another 50 when the new facility comes online in September.

Thomas Goff, facility manager, said the new 30,000-square-foot facility will be used to produce marinated meats, as well as Korean barbecue and bulgogi, which he said are dishes that have been popular with Americans.

He said the company chose the location for the expansion because of its proximity to farmlands that can produce onions, tomatoes, radishes and mushrooms for its products. The company worked with Strategic Economic Development Corp., the area’s local economic development agency, to connect it with local agricultural producers.

“We're the only food manufacturer that can produce this type of food right now,” said Jung. “We want to be the first and we want to be the biggest.” 

  Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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