Funk Seoul Brother
NASHVILLE SINCE 2001
“HOW A WHITE GUY FROM DETROIT BECOMES ENAMORED WITH KOREAN FOOD”
B.J. Lofback always knew he’d one day end up in the food industry. In 2011, the time felt right to make the change, and B.J. opened Riffs, which he’d later rename Funk Seoul Brother. His food truck has since become one of the most popular places to grab food in Nashville, and is a three-time award winner from Nashville Scene.
“You want to learn the (Korean) traditions so you can break them correctly,” he says. In a pre-Google era, he spent hours upon hours doing research. “I had to buy cookbooks that didn’t make sense, get people that loosely knew Korean or had moms that knew Korean who could translate things for me,” he says. “I had to learn the rules I was breaking, and I did that over a really long time.” He also studied Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines to help complement the Korean flavors he was cultivating.
“In Detroit in my day, it wasn’t easy to find ethnic cuisines,” he says. “You had to seek them out, but when I did, they were amazing. Frozen dinners and processed foods; that’s what I grew up on, so when I experienced real food, that’s when the obsession started to come.”
B.J. first came to Nashville in 2001. He plays guitar, but knew he wasn’t good enough to make it in Nashville, so he got a career in internet marketing. But he wasn’t happy with it, and when food blogs started to blossom in 2009, he saw his moment. He was enamored with the street food and food truck culture in LA, and the way that Koreans there were putting American ingredients and twists on traditional dishes. His first truck was called Riffs – “a riff on different cuisines” – now, the name is inspired by a song by James Brown, “the original funk soul brother.”
For Nashville, the result has been transcendent. B.J. was one of just a handful of food trucks when he started, helping to inspire the early revolution that now lines street after street during summer festivals like Live on the Green. He was also the first in Nashville to offer the popular sushi burrito, which, incidentally, he doesn't make anymore. “The sushi burrito is my ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ and I don’t want to play it anymore,” he says. “I get bored quickly and there’s things I enjoy doing, and you better hang with me if you enjoy what I’m doing right now because I’m gonna change it. But my obsession is and always will be Korean fried chicken.”
B.J.’s delicious cuisine and desire to explore creatively continue to hold the spotlight in the growing Music City. “I riff on different cuisines the same way a guitar player, which I am as well, would riff on different pieces of music,” he says. “The idea of music and food as creative – those things ran very parallel to me, those are two passions the same juices flow in the brain.”