Everyday Icons: The Restaurant Owner

Want to hear a true success story from a family gal? Meet Yunnie Morena of local Santa Monica pier restaurant favorite, The Albright.

Image c/o The Albright

When Yunnie Morena's parents fled a religiously oppressed life in Korea, they settled down in Santa Monica to establish roots and start a quaint family restaurant. Years later, daughter Yunnie is carrying the torch of entrepreneurship and community building by taking over the family reins at The Albright, aptly named after the albright knot: a knot that binds two ropes (or in this case, generations!). We stole a few minutes with her to chat about family, work and the legacy she's grateful to leave...

We love that you're carrying on the legacy of your mother by taking over the helm at the family restaurant. What important aspects of becoming a business owner have you learned from your own mother's methods?

Something I learned early on from my mother was to be a team player. There is no job that is beneath me as a business owner. In order to be a team leader and effectively delegate, one needs to know how to do every job of your business. I’ve done everything from sweep floors to serve food, something my mom always did. Not only does this show great support to my staff and raise morale but it also allows me to see where improvements can be made in the way we operate.

What was the catalyst for deciding to take over the family restaurant? You previously worked in fashion, so I'm imagining the transition to the food industry might have been difficult. What have you learned from both industries?

The transition was actually quite seamless. I was at a point where I was really ready to try something different. After working for 17 years in fashion and always having a passion for food, I was more than ready for the challenge. My mother was ready to retire and there were lots of changes happening with the company I was involved with. The timing really was perfect. I love that I’m able to use my years of experience in the service industry and apply it to the restaurant. At the end of the day, it’s all about making people feel great, whether that be through fitting them or feeding them.

I think it's amazing that your child can grow up around the same family restaurant that you did! What are some of your fondest memories growing up in this space, and how do you plan to share that with your children?

One of my favorite memories growing up at the pier was meeting so many colorful, interesting people. As a child, and now as an adult, I have such a love and genuine interest in people and their stories. Sometimes I would sit at the restaurant and chat with all the patrons. Sometimes they were 70 year old gypsies that were just strolling through town or some were regulars that were the resident pier performers. It is because of these rich experiences I have always been able to go anywhere in the world and connect with people from many different walks of life. I hope that my son is able to have the same memories of all the wonderful people that come from all over the world as I did.

Your parents started a flourishing business from the ground up, having just fled a religiously oppressed life in Korea. How has this shaped your own perspective on life and gratitude?

Both of my parents came to this country not speaking a word of English and with very little money. Growing up with two people that had such a love and appreciation for things that I noticed many others around me take for granted, has stayed with me, even as an adult. As my parents always said, in this country you can dream anything and make it come true. With hard work and determination I have found this to be true.

Clementine Daily's mission is to better our daily lives to better the lives around us while celebrating the seemingly mundane. How do you personally fit within this mission?

Again, being raised by immigrants who had such an appreciation for everything, even the little things, has had such a lasting and profound effect on me. Being able to cook for my family, some may consider a chore, but I think of it as a blessing. I consider myself so lucky to have found something I feel passionate about and make into a career.

What are five everyday items you wouldn't want to live without?

Pressed veggie green juice, my Helen Kaminski sun hat, pictures of my son and husband, my iPhone and a Moleskin.

p.s. Want to read more about another foodie making positive waves in today's world? Meet the pickler.