Surprisingly, North Korea’s State-Run Restaurant Chain Is a Horrible Place to Work

What you're in for if you visit.
What you’re in for if you visit. Photo: Koen Van Weel/AFP/Getty Images

South Korean officials say 13 employees of North Korea’s rather frightening state-run restaurant chain decided they’d had enough yesterday and defected. The DPRK-operated chain, uncreatively called Pyongyang Restaurant, has somehow accumulated 130 locations in 12 countries, all of which appear to be variations on a dinner-theater theme in which the all-female staff sings and flirts with the male clientele, like a 1 million–times-creepier Hooters. It’s assumed all of the money made from its $70 bottles of sea-cucumber liquor and aphrodisiacs made from bear parts subsidizes Kim Jong-un’s various bad habits back home (from buying illegal weapons to getting bad haircuts to mycophilia). Employees reportedly live on site.

It sounds like the 13 anonymous defectors — a male manager and a dozen of his employees — figured anything was better than this, so they took their lives in their hands and bolted from their workplace/prison, which isn’t being identified. They got to Seoul safely, and The Wall Street Journal calls it “one of the largest known group defections of North Koreans in recent years”:

The defection is unusual because of the size of the group and because North Koreans who are allowed to work abroad are regarded among the most loyal to the Pyongyang regime. Group defections by North Koreans are also usually by families or those with very close ties because of a culture of individuals informing on each other to the authorities.

Other foods reportedly on offer include dog soup and ginseng wine, though it probably depends on the legality of these foods in the respective countries. An American journalist who once ate at the Cambodia location says the menu at the time consisted of “cold noodles, pungent dog meat casserole, and viscous pine nut gruel.”


North Korea-Run Restaurant Workplace Is Horrible