Soondubu is Hee Sook Lee’s secret recipe. It’s a steaming bowl made of soft tofu and a bright-red beef bone broth. He and his young sons fell asleep, but BCD Tofu House, who was the owner of a Los Angeles restaurant, spent long nights in the kitchen trying out different spices until she got the perfect dish. The tofu was so silky that it melts on the tongue, while the broth added the right amount of gochugaru or Korean red chill pepper.
Soon, it was time for her to introduce the soup in her restaurant. She could not have predicted its impact on her establishment’s growth and the cultural significance of the soup itself.
Ms. Lee, founder of BCD Tofu House
Ms. Lee, founder of BCD Tofu House, died in Los Angeles on July 18. She was 61. Her oldest son, Dr. Eddie Lee said that ovarian cancer was the cause. As an assistant professor at Keck School of Medical of the University of Southern California Dr. Lee helped his mother to manage the business as its interim chief executive in recent years.
The BCD Tofu House chain began in 1996 in Los Angeles with one restaurant on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown. Today, there are 13 locations in 12 cities across the United States. For those who work irregular hours, or young people looking for Ms. Lee’s secret soondubu and other Korean dishes after a night out on the town, some are open 24 hours per day.
“The secret to the soup is in the seasoning,” Dr. Lee stated in a telephone interview about the soup. “That’s all that I can say. Or it won’t remain a secret any more.”
Hee Sook Hong was one of four children of Young Pyo Hong (a teacher) and Chun Ja Park (a homemaker).
Hee Sook was in middle-school when her father suffered a stroke that left him paralysed. Her mother started selling products at flea markets and washing dishes in restaurants to support her family. Hee Sook started working after high school to earn extra money. Her mother told her that she was the only child of two, but that she was also the oldest and most responsible.
She married Tae Ro Lee in 1983. He was a lawyer and restaurateur. In 1989, they moved to Los Angeles so her sons could learn English.
After graduating, Ms. Lee started to look for a job. She enrolled at Santa Monica College’s graphic design program and graduated in 1994.
One Sunday in the mid-1990s, she had the idea of opening a restaurant while sitting in Berendo Street Baptist Church with her family. Her sons started to growl during the service and begged her to take them to soondubu, the restaurant that was just across the street.
Dr. Lee stated, “My brothers would love to eat there,” “That made her think that tofu soup would be something she could really focus on.
The restaurant was named BCD Tofu House by Ms. Lee, abbreviating Buk Chang Dong, after a Seoul neighborhood where her aunt owned a tofu restaurant. Ms. Lee was devoted to the business and would wake up early to pick produce at the downtown wholesale market.
Dr. Lee stated that “anything she put on a table had to be perfect,” “whether it was temperature, color, or saltiness of tofu seasoning.”
People came. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2008 that tourists from South Korea arrived by busloads at BCD Tofu House to snap photos. The restaurant is frequented by visiting dignitaries, athletes stars, and actors. The restaurant is open 24 hours a day, but there is always a wait.
Ms. Lee provided health benefits for laid-off workers, and additional wages for those who stayed to take out orders. Ms. Lee also knew that people would need hot soup during a crisis and kept the BCD Tofu House on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles open all day.
She is survived by Dr. Lee and two sons: her husband and her sisters, Myung Hee Hong Hong, Sung Hee Hong, and Sung Im Lee.
Hee Sok Lee (June 24, 1960 – July 18, 2020), was born Hee Hong and was an American businesswoman from South Korea. She founded the BCD Tofu House chain.
Hee Sook Hong, the daughter Chun Ja Park and Young Pyo Hong, was born in Seoul. After her father died, Hee Sook was a teacher and she and her mother began working in restaurants to provide support for the family. She graduated from Santa Monica College with a degree in graphic design.
Lee, her husband, and their children moved to the United States in 1989. The popular BCD Tofu House chain,  was founded by Lee. It is named after the Buk Chun Dong area in Seoul, where her mother owned a restaurant. In April 1996, her first restaurant opened in Koreatown, Los Angeles.  Soondubu-jigae was her original recipe. BCD Tofu House is a chain of Korean restaurants. It was named after the Sogong-dong neighborhood in Seoul, where her husband’s mother had a restaurant.
Parasite won the Golden Globe in early 2020 for Best Foreign Language Film. Director Bong Joonho, along with other cast members, went to BCD Tofu house on Wilshire Boulevard to take out orders. They also donated soup to the COVID-19 pandemic victims and elderly.
Lee was president of Global Children Foundation (a Christian charity founded in Korea by Korean-American women).
Hee Sook Hong was married to Tae Ro Lee, a lawyer and restaurateur in 1983. They had three children. Lee, a 61-year-old woman, died in Los Angeles from ovarian cancer in July 2020.  Eddie Lee was appointed interim executive of the family restaurant business.