BY ELLIE HENSLEY
If you haven’t spent as much time exploring Midtown in recent months, you might have missed the opening of Mukja Korean Fried Chicken. Located in the Metropolis building on Peachtree Place, the incredible menu includes Southern sides with a Korean twist as well as chicken — and the story behind the restaurant is incredible as well.
Mukja (“Let’s Eat!”) was founded by two friends, Peter Chung and Sean Chang, while they were rooming together in college in Atlanta. Chang was in a very serious car accident as a freshman that left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to find work, and the two reconnected and decided to open their own restaurant.
Just as they graduated and prepared to make their debut as restaurateurs, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite the challenges, Mukja was able to open for business in late October 2020.
We sat down with Chang to learn about how he brought his “Seoul Food” concept to life in Midtown Atlanta.
A Progression of Events
Chang said he was blessed to be exposed to a lot of Korean food growing up in Los Angeles. His family is from Joella-do, a province in Korean known for its delicious dishes, and he was also drawn to the Latin-Korean fusion that is a huge part of L.A.’s thriving restaurant scene.
His family moved to Georgia in 2006, and he enrolled in college. On the way home after taking exams, Chang was in a terrible car accident that paralyzed him from the waist down.
“It was a journey of rehab and situating what life would be or could be,” said Chang.
It was during his rehabilitation at Shepherd Center in Buckhead that Chang reconnected with Chung, who he had originally met on a church retreat. They decided to room together while attending college — Chung was in school at Georgia Tech, and Chang transferred to the hospitality school at Georgia State University.
“While we were living together, I was always cooking random recipes and menus for people,” Chang said. “When I was taking my hospitality courses, we kept joking this could be a restaurant concept.”
When Chang took a franchising class and used a fast-casual Korean fried chicken restaurant as a project, he was sold. He and Chung decided to give opening a restaurant a shot, with Chung handling the financial parts of the business and Chang taking on the role of chef.
“We thought Atlanta could really use something like that, it’s a great way to get people exposed to Korean flavors on an introductory level,” Chang said. “And fried chicken is synonymous with the South. Everyone loves chicken down here.”
Peter Chung and Sean Chang, owners at Mukja.
Sorting Out the Logistics
After graduating college in 2019, Chung and Chang thought it was just a matter of sorting out the logistics for their restaurant. They found an angel investor who supported their concept fully, and the next step was finding the perfect location - which also happens to be the former location of Midtown Alliance’s Midtown Blue operations center.
“Fresh out of college, it was the hardest thing ever,” Chang said. “It took a little more than a year, and we finally found this location at Metropolis ourselves when we were just driving around the city.”
Just after work began on the restaurant’s interior, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. Construction workers were unable to report to their jobs and the restaurant’s permits, already in process with the City of Atlanta, were halted as City Hall shut down.
“We knew about COVID when it hit China, but we didn’t think it would have the global impact that it did,” Chang said.
The two kept pushing forward and realized their dream of opening Mukja last October. Mukja’s situation is still “troubling, but significantly better” according to the owners.
“We took a lot of damage having to pay for months we weren’t able to be open,” Chang said.
However, between November 2020 through March of 2021, Mukja’s sales have gone up 50 percent. Chang is hopeful that as more people are vaccinated and the summer arrives, the daytime worker lunch rush will return to Midtown.
A Bird on a Bun and a Korean beer: A must-try at Mukja
Must-Try Menu Items at Mukja
Next time you’re in the district, give Mukja’s Korean fried chicken a try. Chang has worked to perfect every item on the menu, from the Whole Bird with sauces that include Korean Sweet Heat and Honey Butter to the sides like the waffle with garlic, serrano and scallion and the Korean slaw.
But the item he says you can’t miss is the Bird on a Bun, because chicken sandwiches are so quintessentially Atlanta. However, the Bird on a Bun is not your average fried chicken sandwich — it comes with a grilled chicken thigh, cabbage, carrots, scallions and house-made Gochujang sauce. View their menu online here.
Midtown businesses like Mukja have missed you just as much as you have missed them. When you’re ready to come back, please show your support to Midtown restaurants and their hard-working owners and staffers. From purchasing the new MidtownATL Gift Card to posting pics of your meal on social media, there are many ways you can show how you "Love Local." Head over to this page for a list of ideas.