On Wednesday, St. Paul’s Bap and Chicken is celebrating adoptees—but the event doesn’t fall on National Adoption Day, which is November 20 this year. September 22 is Bap and Chicken owner John Gleason’s adoption day.
“This one’s a little more personal,” he tells Racket. That’s when, at six months old, the Seoul, South Korea-born Gleason joined his family here in the Twin Cities.
Gleason knows being adopted can come with a complicated set of feelings and connotations. “Some people associate very well with it and they’re very comfortable with it. And some people have a very hard time,” he says. It’s especially true here in Minnesota, which has such a high number of Korean adoptees.
“If you see a Korean who’s 30 to 50, odds are they’re adopted,” Gleason says. “We have the second-most adopted Koreans in the nation.” That’s why Bap and Chicken has an “adoption wall,” where people who have been adopted can have their picture taken and added to the growing collection of portraits.
“Being adopted and growing up in America, and specifically Minnesota, both cultures have a tremendous impact on who I am,” Gleason says. He’s always loved cooking and eating food, working in the restaurant industry throughout his life. As Minnesota’s 2000s food revolution happened, Gleason honed his own cooking and dreamed about opening a place of his own. And in 2019, he introduced Bap and Chicken on Grand Avenue.
The fast-casual restaurant specializes in twice-fried crispy tempura chicken, bibimbap bowls, and bulgogi, but there are also sandwiches and bar snacks like “the buffalo brie” and Korean corn dogs.
“When I talk about what Bap and Chicken is, and the type of food, everyone’s always like, ‘Oh, it’s fusion,’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s the food of who I am,'” Gleason says. “I’m Korean, I’m American. I love eating all sorts of different food; I love cooking all sorts of different food.”
The adoption wall is important to Gleason as a place where any adoptee can have their picture taken and be recognized. “A lot of our employees are adopted, so we have them up there,” he says. “Friends, people from the neighborhood.” They’ve had folks from Rochester and St. Cloud come in to be on the wall… even if COVID meant they didn’t add too many new faces last year.
Anyone who dines in or gets takeout on the 22nd gets a free Korean ice cream treat, and adopted guests are welcome to add their portrait to Bap and Chicken’s wall. (Find more info and RSVP on Facebook.) And if you can’t make it this year? The wall isn’t going anywhere, and Gleason wants to hold this adoption celebration annually.
“I think it’s growing to be a growing art piece and a talking point,” Gleason says. “Even if you’re not adopted, it’s a unique feature that will maybe bring awareness to adoptees, their stories, and the impact of growing up in America.”