- Age: 28
- Chicago, Illinois
- Restaurant Concept: Fixed-calorie fast food meals in busy metropolitan areas
Stephenie Park grew up in a middle class Korean family in the Chicago suburbs. She achieved a JD from Harvard Law and a BS in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Park volunteered for the Peace Corps for two years and even though she's accomplished so much, she's never had enough faith to really go for what she's wanted until now. Her ambition is to have fixed-calorie fast food meals in busy metropolitan areas - full meals with an entree, side and small dessert. Her goal is to teach Americans portion control, especially in fast dining.
- Exit Interview:
What inspired your fast casual restaurant concept?
My concept was inspired by Chicago and its horrible weather combined with my life-consuming job. I'd always packed my own lunch, but once my job made it impossible for me to cook, I had to start eating out. Most restaurants have only one or two healthy options, a soup or salad, neither of which is satisfying in Chicago's below-freezing weather. I thought there had to be a way to serve healthy, satiating meals that don't lure me into eating more calories for lunch than I should have in an entire day, and a restaurant concept was born.
What was it like to make it to the Top 10 and compete on the show?
I didn't expect to make it into the Top 10 — in fact, I had called my husband to say that I hoped to see him in a few days, so when the judges told me that I had made it to Restaurant Row, I was shaking because I was so surprised and nervous about the challenges that were yet to come. The competition was thrilling at times, demoralizing at others, but always, always stressful. That said, I'm definitely glad I did it.
What moment or moments on the show were most surprising to you?
As I just mentioned, I was stunned to have made it into the Top 10. I was just as shocked, though, when Eric was sent home. I had picked him to win the competition, and that was the moment I realized that I must have no clue as to what the judges were looking for.
What was the best part of your experience?
It's hard to pick one thing. I will say, though, that I learned a lot about myself, and despite everything, I believe that I emerged from the competition a much stronger and more confident person.
Did you make any lasting friendships and/or business relationships on the show? With whom?
I think that I'll always have a connection to everyone that was on the show - we shared an experience that few other people can understand. The person with whom I've remained the closest, though, is Suds. I even lived in his apartment for part of the time that I was singing in NYC.
Did you think you should have been eliminated? Did you agree with the investors' decision?
I feel that I put in a strong performance just before I was eliminated, but I also knew that I was not the person that the judges were looking for.
Are you going to continue to pursue your restaurant concept?
I would love to see my vision of an affordable fast-casual restaurant focusing on healthy, whole foods become a reality.
Which one of your competitors' restaurants would you eat at regularly?
Having tasted everyone's food, there isn't a restaurant that I wouldn't visit. The places that I would visit most regularly, though, are Spice Coast and Wok/Chao. I need food that won't make me fall asleep when I go back to my desk.
What have you been doing since being on the show?
I've been busy! A few months after the show, I left my job to figure out what direction I want my life to take. I spent a little over a month with Province (a restaurant in Chicago) learning about choosing and using local ingredients and ethically raised meats and seafood. After that, I sang two concerts with the New York City chorus Essential Voices USA. Most recently, I traveled to Panama so that I could learn Spanish and hike through the rainforest. Throughout those adventures, I've been working on a novel and writing songs, so it's been a little bit of everything.
What has the experience of being on the show taught you?
Being on the show expanded the range of things that I thought possible. I'll never again dismiss a goal as being too difficult or farfetched.