We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Oak Kim and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I owe a lot of my success to risk because it always comes accompanied by opportunity. So much of my life has been a series of risky decisions that more often than not turned out okay. As I’ve gotten older, the stakes have definitely gotten higher. But I still move based on my gut instinct rather than calculations. That’s just the kind of person I am. I believe all the small good actions you do build up karma and that karmic wealth eventually translates to material success.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Our Bar ATL is a bar + kitchen with live entertainment and community events going on all the time. We started thinking about it seriously in October 2018. The timing just felt right- but the desire to own a place of our own was there for years. My friends and I had all spent years in the hospitality industry, working together here and there in Atlanta. We were always going over to each other’s places and hanging out at our favorite bars. Over time, we really wanted a place for ourselves, a home we can all belong to and can come back to – whether we’re celebrating a huge success or the sky is falling down on us.
We named our place, “Our Bar ATL,” because we fervently believe that you’ve achieved success when you look around and you see that everyone is eating. My philosophy is “the only thing better than eating is feeding the fam.” I believe success has its own aura, and people are naturally influenced by it. The best feeling in the world is to sit down at the table with all your friends and family, and everyone is happy, fulfilled, and on the move with ever-rising ambitions. Success is letting that halo glow to reach and uplift all the people around you so you can all eat together. This feeling is how we’ve overcome every challenge, from the hurdles of opening to the current shock of the pandemic.
We’re a bar, but we’re also a bit of everything else. Since we opened in February 2020, we’ve hosted over 200 pop-ups with 70 chefs, we’ve had DJs and performances from all over come through, and we have the most random, fun activities for the community. It provides a common ground and a home for everyone. We do whatever feels good and right to us, and as long as a few people are interested in whatever and want to be a part of it, we’ll make it happen. We’re really all over the place – whether it’s a book club every Tuesday, getting a young chef trying to do his thing in the kitchen, or a lit line-up of DJs at night. We offer a little bit of everything to everyone without pretensions or expectations. This is what I feel a community is about: finding that common ground and supporting each other’s interests and dreams, big or small.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve been in Atlanta for so long, all of my best friends are from here and know the city just as well as I do. If they moved away and were visiting Atlanta again, our activities would always revolve around meeting and catching up with as many people as possible.
My favorite part of the city is more or less around where Our Bar ATL is located in the O4W area. If a friend came back to visit, we would…
Wake up and make it to Homegrown right before they close at 3.
Order the fried green tomatoes, basic breakfast, and an extra side of sliced oranges.
Pack a few beers and go by Sweetwater Creek with our “active” friends.
There’s this one stream Kelsey always takes us to that is “off the path.” Sometimes the tide is real high and strong,
and I can’t cross the rocks because I always get scared – but it’s exhilarating.
On the way back to the city, I’d call and beg Debbi Snax to squeeze us in for a last-minute tattoo appointment.
She works at Memorial Tattoo (on Moreland) and is always booked, but somehow she finds a way to make time for me.
We’d then go get a late lunch at Soba in EAV while we wait for our appointment time with Debbi Snax.
Order a #13 medium and Thai tea.
Split a #3 for appetizer.
We’d Hit MJQ if it’s a Wednesday night, and we don’t have shit to do in the morning.
Send out the bat signal for the rest of our friends to meet us.
Sit on their deck and chain-smoke cigarettes while talking over the music.
Grab a couple empanadas from the Island Flavors ATL food stand in the parking lot. I always get (1) beef and cheese and (1) shrimp.
Once the whole gang got together, we’d run across the street to Model T’s back in the day.
We’d end the night there, fighting to play songs on their juke box and playing pool. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are so many people who deserve acknowledgment for the support, love, and encouragement they’ve given throughout our journey. They’re responsible for the lion’s share of our success.
We couldn’t have made this happen without the staff. It’s always special when you have a fully committed staff ready to go even before the business plan or anything else. We would all gather at the house and meet again and again to brainstorm our fantasy before we had the space or a dollar to start. They always brought the beer and the motivation, arguing with each other over who would be better at their jobs. They’re all still here. I wouldn’t even want a bar if it wasn’t with them. If they all left tomorrow, we’d probably just sell it.
A huge shout-out to Emma Tinsley from the Old Fourth Ward Business Association. Once we got the lease, she was the first person to reach out and offer assistance. She was and still is protective of us. The way she cares for us and our success is well outside of her job description. She is the epitome of “what it means to be a good neighbor.” I don’t think we could’ve made it though the permit and planning process without her.
So much of what I’ve learned and utilized for the bar came from Dafina Memberr, my mentor from when I was 23. She gave me my first real job. I used to love addressing her as “boss lady,” like how Levita called Principal Regina Grier on The Steve Harvey Show. I’m pretty sure she hated it, but I still have her saved in my phone as that. She was our savior investor for the bar. We wouldn’t have been able to afford finishing construction without her. Even 10 years after I stopped working for her, she gave me the biggest gesture of trust and “I believe in you, Sarah” that I’ve experienced in my life – my biggest fear is probably letting her down.
I have to give a shout-out of gratitude to all of our pop-up chefs who we’ve partnered with over the past pandemic year. During the height of the pandemic when none of us knew what to do, they made it so we could barely break $60 a day. Even as things are calming down, they still come through to cook for whoever walks through our doors. A lot of times, we’d barely have three customers from noon to 8pm, but they stuck with us for months until word got out and it got busier. If it wasn’t for the dedication, talent, and loyalty of our pop-up chefs, we wouldn’t have made it even 4 months after opening in late February last year.
Photographer: Anitra Isler