Sitting across from Joanne (Hye Yeon) Lee in her brightly lite up café where the colors are energizing and the atmosphere is welcoming, I see a truly happy young entrepreneur.
Only four months ago she was in Seoul working in the chaotic corporate world where everything but the small things in life were important. Now she enjoys a busy but more fulfilling life in Seogwipo where it’s the small things in life that are what matters the most such as her family and closest friends.
Hye Yeon and her dog, Yanong, offer a warm and generous smile to all her guests who come to the MayB Café.
MayB Café opened July 10 and is located on Lee Jung Seop Street. “Good location for the hungry and tired hikers as it is part of the Olle Trail No. 6. The atmosphere feels like you left Korea and stepped into a modern European café, which causes many people to stop and take pictures.”
▲ Scenes from MayB Cafe. Photo by Bethany Carlson
Why did you choose the name ‘May 飛 (B) Café’?
I decided I wanted to open the café in May 2010 and so that is where May comes from.
飛 in Chinese characters means “to fly” and is read “비” (be) in Korean. May 飛 (B) could mean “perhaps” to some but to me it means to be free and fly which was decided in May.
Why did you choose the location Jeju Island (Seogwipo) for the café?
I am originally from Jeju-do and I left here 12 years ago to travel, study abroad and to work in Seoul. I came back to be closer to my family and friends and of course Jeju is my favorite place out of all the travelling I have done.
Why is Jeju special to you?
Jeju is special to me because it has everything I love like beach, mountains, I even love the 516 highway and it is where I grew up and my family and closest friends live here.
Where have you traveled?
I have traveled to China, Japan, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Taiwan, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, Czech, France, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Australia and studied Hotel Management in Toronto, Canada for 3 years.
Why is travel important to you?
It started with curiosity. I randomly chose the countries. People think too much when choosing where to go, where I just want explore different cultures and food. I discover a different side of myself when I travel, a side you would never know otherwise if you didn’t travel. I am more open minded and understanding when I travel. This is helpful when learning different cultures. I love the excitement of travel. If you have troubles at home that is all you think about when you are home but when you travel you can see your problems from a distance and realize how small they are.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your travels?
I get to appreciate what I have and what I have back at home. It allows me to re-start myself and I tell myself that I will work harder and appreciate more of what I have. There is always a story about each place I visited.
Is there a significance to why the café is on Lee Jung Seop Street?
The street has so many characteristics and so much history from the late Lee Jung Seop that I thought it was a perfect spot to open a café and also, because it is on Olle Trail No. 6. There were two openings for lease next to each other and my mother wanted to open a flower shop and so we thought this was an excellent opportunity to open right next to each other.
What were the “characteristics” of Lee Jung Seop Street that so attracted you?
There is no better street in Seogwipo. Lee Jung Seop Street says it all. It is very cultural and one of the busiest streets in Seopgwipo. I also grew up on this street. Across from the book store.
What were you doing before opening MayB Café?
I worked in media and did distribution for CNBC. I also worked in project teams for HBO and KidsCo for their channel launching in Korea. I also worked for a well known bakery café franchise company doing business development and marketing.
Can you describe the difference between working in corporate Seoul and life on Jeju?
When I worked in Seoul I didn’t own my time. Eighty percent of my time I worked. People work so hard in Seoul they lose themselves. Having my own café I work very hard and work long hours but my time is mine and I can be myself and choose how to spend
Describe a typical day at the café.
A typical day at the café begins with preparing fresh ingredients for the menu items. Including fresh herbs from my mother’s flower shop next door, such as rosemary. Also, fresh flowers are arranged on each table which help bring the energy and aliveness to the café. Each day I meet people from all over the world and everyday brings different experiences.
How is MayB Café unique from other cafés?
We have a wide range of customers. We have young people come in with their laptops or books and stay here for hours and we also have elderly people having beer or wine just to hang out and talk with their company. Many artists from Jeju come here to enjoy the brightly, energetic atmosphere. We also have special events throughout the year such as Black and White Party and Arabian Night.
Describe the items on your menu.
We have a variety of espresso and specialty drinks, organic teas imported from Germany, beer, spirits, wine and snacks. The menu changes with the seasons to ensure the freshest local ingredients.
What do you see for the future of MayB Café?
I really want this place to be where people come back when they travel back to Jeju. Also, I want to continue with the cultural event nights, and have exhibits with local artists.
What would be your advice to someone thinking of a complete change of lifestyle?
Try to decided what is the most important thing in your life. You can’t have it all. You have to give up some things. It is very simple but true. In my case I tried not to think too much about it. You can never decide on something when you think too much. Thinking too much will only make you have regrets. Think about the things that are most important to you.
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