Owner Jack Shin, 52, was a contractor in Seoul, South Korea, before moving to Los Angeles. He designed and built the entire ship himself over the course of a single year and takes pride in every detail from the dining booths, modeled after the lavish Titanic state rooms, to the hand-painted ocean scenes on the walls.
‘This was my dream. I hammered every nail and built the whole ship myself by hand. I love it. I know every single piece of the place,’ said Shin.
Shin knew he was destined to build a model of the Titanic after he saw James Cameron’s iconic film in 1997, but had no idea what kind of ship he wanted to run once the business opened. When his wife suggested a coffee shop, he decided to call it ‘Café Jack,’ named both for himself and Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Jack Dawson.
‘The love story in the film is so beautiful. I’ve seen the movie over 50 times and I still love it,’ said Shin.
Original stills from the film bolster the romantic nautical theme. In one booth you find a seductive Rose getting painted like one of Jack’s French girls and in another the classic scene where Jack fist pumps into the sky, declaring, “I’m the king of the world!” Other decorations, like a Curious George poster, string lights shaped like bunches of grapes, and slot machines, make less sense but are welcome additions to the restaurant’s eclectic charm.
‘I chose things I liked and things that make people laugh,’ said Shin. ‘I want people to feel happy here.’
Café Jack has transformed into a wedding venue for several young lovers, a karaoke bar for the hip nighttime crowd, and a salon for tarot card readings and fortune telling. If you find that your attempts to impress your date are sinking, the abundant kitsch and available activities will provide a sturdy lifeboat to keep conversation afloat.
The menu is a creative mash-up of traditional Korean dishes, sushi items such as ‘The Titanic Roll’ and ‘The Jack and Rose Roll,’ seafood pasta dishes, and desserts. The vanilla milkshake is a thick, creamy treat and pairs surprisingly well with the sushi. Shin prepares most of the food himself.
‘When customers started requesting food items to go with their coffee and tea, seafood seemed like the best choice for a restaurant on a ship,’ said Shin.
You must push a button that rings a bell, alerting the waitstaff that you are ready to order. If you don’t push the button, the server will never come, so when you are deeply lost in your lover’s eyes make sure you remember this detail if you want to eat. The food isn’t necessarily anything to write home about, but the dishes are tasty and inexpensive. Shin wants his place to be affordable and welcoming to the local community, even if that means he makes less of a profit.
‘People in Koreatown don’t have a lot of money so I wanted a place where everyone could afford to come and relax,’ said Shin. He admits that business has slowed since they first opened in 2007 but says that doesn’t bother him too much. He knows that he could make significantly more money as a contractor or bring in new business if he fixed up the place, but he appreciates his loyal customers and wants to retain the restaurant’s original character.
Devoted fans of the restaurant can rest easy knowing that as long as Shin remains passionate about Titanic, Café Jack’s heart will go on.
‘I hope that I can run Café Jack for another 20 years!’ said Shin, laughing with genuine exuberance. ‘I love coming to work here everyday and seeing my dream come true.’
Café Jack, 508 Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA, USA +1 213 365 8882