Connecting Mt. Pleasant with Korean culture through food, art, and conversationMeet Maya Denslow, owner of Jib-Bob Korean Restaurant

The sharing of culture leads to understanding, and understanding begets harmony. A world with increased harmony is a better world, and few would argue that it isn’t worth working towards. Maya Denslow takes this work very seriously. 

Born in South Korea, Denslow is the owner and operator of Jib-Bob Korean Restaurant in downtown Mt. Pleasant. Jib-Bob translates to “mother’s homemade cooking,” which is reflected not only in the food at Jib-Bob, but in its ambience and overall experience. 

Jib-Bob truly feels and looks like a place that reflects the warmth of its owner, beckoning for cross-cultural understanding.

The art at Jib-Bob stands out from the mass-produced wall art at most restaurants. It is unique and personal, with intentionality to it. Denslow creates the art pieces in Jib-Bob herself. She uses a chainsaw to carve the wood statues seen in the front lawn of Jib-Bob, which are then hand-painted. For the largest of these, Denslow ruined four chainsaws by the time it was finished. 

Wooden statues carved by Jib-Bob Korean Restaurant owner Maya Denslow. (Photo: Courtney Jerome/Epicenter)Denslow works hard to make the art and cultural aspects of Jib-Bob as much a part of the experience as the food.

“I never noticed I’m running a restaurant – I’m an artist,” Denslow jokes. 

But for her, that seems to be the point. 

Jib-Bob is about more than simply selling food – it is about transcending the ideals behind cultural food in the U.S. and bringing something truly special to the customer. In her own words, Denslow seeks to bring “cultural affection,” to the customer as part of the experience. She says she wanted to bring downtown Mt. Pleasant “something special; a unique place, where people can walk around and say ‘wow, that’s unique and pretty.’” 

For Denslow, the art is her form of advertisement, not just for the sale of food, but for the understanding of Korean culture.

“It gives people a connection to the art, connection to the culture, connection to just something different,” she adds.

Wooden statues carved by Jib-Bob Korean Restaurant owner Maya Denslow. (Photo: Courtney Jerome/Epicenter)For Denslow, this business model has been extremely successful and has helped her develop a loyal customer base, consisting of an array of different people. Denslow says she has regulars that come from Midland, Bay City, and even Traverse City. 

“That means a lot,” she shares. “They are coming here for the food, but most of all, they are coming here to talk with me, too – not just for food.” 

Going to each table and getting to know her customers is an integral part of Denslow’s operation. She says of it: “I need to. I want to know where you come from and if you have any experience with Korean food.”

Being forthright about the potential novelty of Korean food to most people allows Denslow to create a more authentic, genuine experience for the customer. 

More so than any cooking supplies or techniques, Denslow’s humility and passion allows her to gain the attention of her customers. The quality of her home-cooked food then turns attention into retention. 

“You have to introduce [the] culture the right way,” says Denslow. Much more than just dropping the plate off and walking away, Denslow meets her customers where they are at, seeking to increase understanding and appreciation of Korean food and culture, and help to further the recent rise of Korean culture in the U.S.

Denslow reflects on the recent influx of Korean culture into the mainstream and says, “Sometimes my customers know more than me. They know everything, all the [Korean] stars and actors.” 

Another testament to how far Korean culture has come in the U.S. is the availability of supplies; Denslow is able to get all her ingredients from within Michigan. While it is still difficult at times, Denslow can buy the ingredients used in dishes served at Jib-Bob from markets in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Saginaw. 

Denslow works a grueling schedule to make sure these ingredients are available to her, often traveling to purchase them on her days off. As a result, she has few true off days.

Yet through all the chaos and busyness, Denslow is able to maintain her kind and
welcoming personality. 

“Without my customers’ patience, I could not run this place,” she says. “I really appreciate it.” 

It is equally true that Mt. Pleasant would be less diverse, interesting, and unique in the absence of Jib-Bob. This, too, should be appreciated.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Owen Howard.

Owen Howard is an Isabella County native with a deep appreciation for all it has to offer, in both people and places. He is a current graduate student at Central Michigan University, with a bachelor's degree in biology. He was a collegiate cross country athlete for CMU and currently assists the team as a volunteer coach. In his free time, Owen could be described as 'chronically outdoors.' Owen has a passion for telling stories and for listening to other people tell theirs. He loves getting the chance to allow people to share their passions and stories with a larger audience.