Meet the Makers: Kelly Han and Hannah Yee of Southern Art Sauce Co.
, by Erin Byers Murray
, by Erin Byers Murray
For mother Kelly Han and daughter Hannah Yee, food has always been a central part of life. Han moved from Korea to the United States more than 30 years ago and raised Yee in Atlanta. The family worked in restaurants and regularly cooked at home—Han was always experimenting in the kitchen and creating recipes, especially small-batch sauces, which were influenced by both her Korean roots and her new home in the American South.
“Our family is super close, and we get together at my mom’s all the time,” says Yee. “She is always hosting everyone, not only for special occasions and holidays, but also during the week and weekends when our family and friends pop over for dinner.” When Yee moved away from home to attend college, Han would send her food through the mail from time to time, often marinated meat that had been frozen. “Friends and family always asked her for recipes and encouraged her to start bottling her sauces,” Yee says. Southern Art Sauce Co., their line of sauces and spices, grew organically from there.
In 2013, Yee and Han connected with the Louisiana State University (LSU) Food Incubator in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “They helped take our family recipes and make them consumer-ready with nutritional labels and ensured that our product had a long shelf-life,” Yee says. Soon, Southern Art Sauce Co. had a line of sauces and seasoning salts inspired by Korean and Southern flavors—the line includes a Handcrafted Hot Sauce, an original and a spicy version of a Korean BBQ Sauce or Marinade, and several seasoning salts. (Their K-Spice Seasoning makes an excellent bloody mary or michelada rim.)
Since launching the line, the family has only gotten closer—something they all consider a gift—and take pride in being able to bring Korean flavors to a wider American audience. The past several years have seen an explosion of interest in Korean food, culture, and music, which only encourages Yee and her family. While many people are first introduced to Korean food through barbecue, Yee notes that their everyday cooking is very plant-based and revolves around healthy ingredients. They hope to spread that knowledge and love of flavorful, healthy cooking.
As business owners, they see more opportunity to expand their line and reach a wider audience. “Growing up, we did not see a lot of people that looked like us as business owners. It is really encouraging that you see more and more women-owned and minority-owned businesses with each passing year,” Yee says. This summer, they’ll take their products to the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, where they’ll have the opportunity to connect with independent retailers, distributers, and buyers from around the world.
“We may not look like the typical ‘Southern’ artisan or maker, but I think that’s what makes Southern Art Sauce Co. such a uniquely Southern company,” says Yee. “The history of the South has always had such a deep connection to slavery and immigration and that has shaped what we know as Southern food today—from grits, to fried chicken, to collard greens,” she says. Today, Han and Yee are proud to be part of the movement to redefine what it means to be Southerners.