William and Gio Paulk opened another restaurant off of Opelika Road, Cheetos, a Korean fusion dessert cafe dreamt up by Gio. It joins the couple’s other ventures: ChickChickPorkPork, a Korean fusion restaurant and Mook Chi Bar.
William explained that the hard-working mastermind behind the concept of Cheetos is his wife Gio. The name was created from their main dish, “cheese toast,” which is served in a cup as a Cup Toast.
“What we have over here [at Cheetos], my wife researches,” William said. “When she gets off of work at 9 p.m., [she] puts my boys to sleep then she’s on the computer researching ‘What can I do now? What is popular nowadays?’”
From the computer, Gio then takes the time to gather ingredients and experiment with them.
“So, she tries them, ‘Maybe I can do this, maybe I can do this,’” William said. “That is how she has come up with all of the drinks over here and we try them, we make them, we let the employees taste them. Then she kind of changes it and once they say, ‘Oh this is good!’ that is how we go with all of our drinks.”
Gio wished to open a place where the younger generations in Auburn could come in and have a space to spend their free time.
“Junior high school students [and] high school students don’t really have a place to hang out,” William said. “Here, they can come in have a drink, study or watch K-pop music videos. That was her concept, for the younger generation.”
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Cheetos is not the couple’s first or only venture. Originally from South Korea, they moved to Auburn in 2011. Before entering into the restaurant industry full time, Gio had been working as a nail technician and William worked at a supply company. They created their first restaurant, ChickChickPorkPork, in order to give working men and women a nearby lunch option off of Exit 66, but, in time, they had to give up their lease.
Although their entrepreneurial journey was marred with leasing issues and failed attempts, they still have their loyal customers. Regardless of the hardships, when a new property on Opelika Road became available, Gio urged her husband to try again.
“My wife said, ‘This is another chance, let’s take it,’” William said. “So, we got the place and we opened [a new location for] ChickChickPorkPork.”
He expressed that trying again was not easy on him and his wife.
“I mean, we were really scared, because we didn’t have any savings besides the money that we had to buy the building,” William said. “So, once we bought it, I thought ‘what if business doesn’t prosper, what should we do?’ We really worried a lot.”
William had worked in the restaurant industry before, and his wife knew Korean cuisine, so together they built ChickChickPorkPork from the ground up.
“When you start from the bottom, it’s kind of difficult,” William said. “I was working at the plant, and when I would finish work, I would come over here and help my wife [run the restaurant] and that’s how we started.”
The same customers who supported ChickChickPorkPork at lunch on Exit 66 now come for dinner and spread awareness of the restaurant throughout the community. Within six months, William was working full-time managing the restaurant and soon his wife would join him as the chef.
“My wife, she is in the kitchen cooking,” William said. “All of the dishes, she cooks them. As you know, a lot of restaurants, the owner does not stay in the kitchen. That is the kind of thing that helps us. People know, ‘Oh ChickChickPorkPork? The owner is in the kitchen cooking.’”
The Paulks want their customers to know and trust that their food will taste the same every time.
As William was forced to adjust ChickChickPorkPork’s services during the COVID-19 pandemic, he looked to another local business for help.
Auburn graduate Harrison Evola is the founder and CEO of FetchMe, the sole delivery service provider for ChickChickPorkPork. Evola started the company FetchMe his junior year at Auburn and has helped many business owners navigate the hardships of the pandemic.
“You can tell the amount of time and effort that went into making everything in the restaurant,” Evola said. “That’s what I was drawn to. You can tell it’s such a unique concept. All you have to do is take one look at the restaurant and you can tell how creative it is.”
The Paulks and Evola have been working together for nearly two years now helping each other grow their businesses.
“[William] said to me that he wanted to partner with [FetchMe] for delivery services because he wants to help us grow while we help him grow,” Evola said. “It’s kind of like two small businesses working together who benefit from working together also.”
The hard work and dedication that William had to creating ChickChickPorkPork inspired Evola on his own journey as an entrepreneur. In the wake of the unanticipated spike in online-ordering and delivery services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FetchMe sought to help smaller businesses with their delivery needs through building their websites.
“All of a sudden, everybody just had to close down, and so many restaurants didn’t have a website, so they had to scramble to do curbside pick-up and some even tried to do their own deliveries,” Evola said. “I just knew that wasn’t going to work because I know how hard it is to scale something like that. So, we just started building websites and then that’s where [William and I] just further developed our relationship and partnership.”
Evola has now created 12 websites for local businesses and created blogs in order to help those businesses promote their services. He wants to support the hard work of other small businesses like his own.
“Just seeing all the hard work that was put into these restaurants, I feel like people have got to know that and they should see that,” Evola said.
The pandemic was detrimental for many businesses but with the help of the City of Opelika and the support of other small businesses, ChickChickPorkPork prevailed.
“With this pandemic, we still got through,” William said. “It was difficult, but we are here now.”
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