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BCD Tofu House Founder Hee Sook Lee Has Died

The BCD Tofu House flagship restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Hee Sook Lee, who founded the beloved, Los Angeles-based BCD Tofu House restaurant chain, known for its bubbling pots of soondubu and its willingness to stay open late, has passed away. The Koreatown Youth and Community Center announced her death last week in a post on its Facebook page. No date or cause of death was given, although it appears Lee died in early or mid-July.

Hee Sook Lee, the founder of BCD Tofu House, attends the opening of a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Koreatown in 2016. (BCD Tofu House via Facebook)

Lee opened the first BCD Tofu House in 1996 on Wilshire Boulevard in Koreatown. According to the company's website, she named the restaurant after the Bukchang Dong neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea, where her mother-­in-­law had once owned a restaurant. Lee decided to specialize in soon tofu, a spicy stew of soft tofu made with a variety of potential ingredients — vegetables, seafood, thinly sliced meats, egg — and served in a stone or porcelain pot.

BCD wasn't Koreatown's first or only soon tofu spot but it became one of the most prominent, helping spread the popularity and reach of Korean cuisine.

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Over the last 24 years, Lee expanded her flagship restaurant into a chain with 14 locations — six in Los Angeles County, three in Orange County, three in the New York/New Jersey area and one in Texas.

Like many Koreatown restaurants, BCD Tofu House has been devastated by COVID-19 and is now operating only via delivery and takeout. But even in the midst of the pandemic, the restaurant's original Wilshire location worked with the Koreatown Youth and Community Center to bring Korean food to seniors who had been isolated by the quarantine and were living on limited-income.

"We are so grateful for the support from Ms. Lee and her BCD family," KYCC wrote in announcing Lee's death. Lee was also active in other charitable enterprises.

More than a restaurateur, Lee was described as an "entrepreneur and community leader" by Michelle Steel, an Orange County supervisor who wrote of Lee as a friend on Facebook: "Her brand and legacy will continue to live on and she will always be an inspiration to myself and many others."

A pot of seafood soon tofu at BCD Tofu House. (BCD Tofu House via Facebook)
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