Wednesday Work Day is a series started by editor Hillary Leftwich to showcase and support creatives who offer services, both in-person or online, and are impacted by the pandemic and the shutdowns both statewide as well as in other countries. The series will showcase one business or individual that is still able to provide a service during the shutdown, whether via remote service or some other way. The hope is to overcome the struggle creatives are enduring through these times and have you, dear reader, get to know some folks who might be able to help you or someone you know with their services. Read a conversation with consultant and former music executive Virgil Dickerson below.
I chatted with local Denver icon Virgil Dickerson about his venture into his new business, K.R.E.A.M. Konsulting and KREAM Kimchi, and how music has influenced him both as a necessary function of living as well as his record label, Suburban Home Records. As most of us have been picking up new interests or forgotten skills while being at home, Dickerson decided to start making kimchi, and it grew into his own business, allowing him to feed his community and also teach folks how to make both traditional as well as new spins on the traditional recipe.
For 18 years, Virgil Dickerson ran Suburban Home Records and Vinyl Collective, releasing over 190 records from bands like Portugal, the Man, Minus the Bear, Every Time I Die, Frank Turner, Poison the Well, and more. For eight years, he was the marketing/beverage director for Illegal Pete’s and the co-founder of the Colorado-based record label, Greater Than Collective. Illegal Pete’s Starving Artist Program was started by Virgil in 2010 after being inspired by a restaurant that gave half off to touring bands. Last year, Illegal Pete’s fed over 800 bands in Colorado and Arizona for free! Over eight years, Virgil Dickerson helped Illegal Pete’s open six new restaurants in Tempe, Tucson, Fort Collins, and Denver.
Virgil Dickerson left Illegal Pete’s in 2019 to start a consulting firm, K.R.E.A.M. K.R.E.A.M.’s aim is to help small businesses tell their story better through community development. KREAM Kimchi began as a project to share kimchi with friends during COVID-19. It’s his mom’s recipe, so it’s made with love. After giving away over 500 jars of kimchi to friends, colleagues, and strangers, he officially launched his kimchi business! His happy place occurs when music, food, and beverage intersects.
Hillary Leftwich: For folks who don’t know you, a bit of background. You started Suburban Home Records for 18 years in Denver and also worked for a local food and hangout icon, Illegal Pete’s. How did the pandemic impact you, and was it a significant factor in the creation of K.R.E.A.M. Konsulting? Also, please tell us the idea behind the name.
Virgil Dickerson: Music, I usually say, is my first love. For as long as I can remember, I have been a music nerd. I had a metal phase, but in high school, I was all about hip hop and R&B. I used to go to Independent Records every Tuesday to buy the latest hip hop cassette (yes, I’m old)! In college, I met the guys in the dorms, and they introduced me to punk rock and ska. I was loaned CDs by Green Day, Screeching Weasel, The Queers, Operation Ivy, and Skankin’ Pickle. I was hooked! These friends also took me to my first couple of shows, Skankin’ Pickle at the Mercury Cafe and Green Day/Tilt at The Gothic. Soon after, I started a fanzine called Suburban Home (named after the Descendents song). Those friends started a band called the Fairlanes, and when they had a recording they wanted to put out, I decided to turn Suburban Home into a label. I got a Molecular Biology degree, but after working in a lab for a year (and hating every minute of my life), I decided to seek out a path of happiness with my career. I moved to Los Angeles and took a job as label manager for Hopeless Records, but after a year (I call it one long year in Los Angeles), I moved to Denver. In Denver, I opened a record store/Japanese toy store called Bakamono (means crazy shit/stupid things in Japanese), and I started doing Suburban Home full time. After a year, I focused entirely on the record label, which included starting a distribution company, a vinyl imprint (Vinyl Collective), a merch company, and more. I guess you can say I did it all. After the downturn in the economy around 2008, my business really suffered, and I started having to lay off staff and downsize. Over 18 years, I released over 190 records. I feel like I had a good run! Around this time, I reached out to Pete Turner of Illegal Pete’s as we were friends through music. He offered me a part-time marketing job, which soon evolved to Marketing Director. I started their Starving Artist Program, which gives free meals to touring bands in Colorado and Arizona (they fed over 700 bands in 2019). I also started the record label they had (Greater Than Collective) and helped release 25 albums by Colorado acts. I had a great run there, but after eight years, I was let go. 2019 was all about meeting with everyone and anyone to figure out the next chapter of my life and those conversations lead to K.R.E.A.M. Konsulting, which was my consulting firm that focused on Community Development to help businesses tell their story. K.R.E.A.M. stands for Kimchi Rules Everything Around Me, which was not only a nod to the Wu-Tang song, “CREAM,” but also of my Korean heritage.
With the pandemic, I found myself with less work to do, and I decided to start making kimchi for friends to share some love. I posted something on Instagram that said, “Looks like I have a new hobby, biking kimchi to my friends.” That post opened up the floodgates, and my friends all started asking for kimchi. From the end of March to the end of July, I gave over 500 jars of kimchi, and during this time, I had people telling me that I should start a business. I’ve been into listening to the universe, so I heard, and KREAM Kimchi was born! I launched it on my 45th birthday on August 8th! Since the launch, I have been making more kimchi than I could have ever imagined, and it’s been the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of!
HL: This is such a universal push success story, Virgil! It’s funny how our passions turn into doing what we love (and sometimes getting paid), which turns into something so much bigger than we ever imagined.
I remember seeing on IG your first kimchi post and seeing it explode from there. When I mentioned “universal push,” I feel it sometimes takes something big to push us out of our comfort zones and into something we never thought could happen. On that note, can you speak on your childhood, growing up, and learning how to make kimchi (and other dishes)? What was your family kitchen like?
VD: I had a great childhood. I grew up in Fountain, Colorado, which is a really small town. I didn’t know any better at the time, but my cul-de-sac, suburban home was right next to Fountain Creek, so we had trees and land and water to explore. I had a gang of friends that started with big wheels then BMX bikes. My dad was in the army, which is how we ended up in Fountain (right next to Fort Carson army base). He would have to leave on tours to places like Germany, and my mom wanted us to stay in the same school, so we stayed in Fountain even when my dad lived overseas. My mom is the most loving person on the planet. She took care of our every need. She worked at the Broadmoor (still does) as a cook for the tavern kitchen. We had babysitters, a nice German woman who was married to a Mexican American man, so we learned the deliciousness of chorizo and eggs and liverwurst. When we got older, we were latch key kids (me and my younger brother), and MTV was our teacher! Yo, MTV raps and Headbangers Ball were my musical teachers! While my mom always made us delicious food, she never taught us how to cook. I never thought about it until I saw an episode of Ugly Delicious where the host, David Chang, was talking to his Korean mom and asked why she never taught him how to cook. She responded, “Oh David, you are my baby king. I just wanted to make sure you had plenty to eat.” My mom had a similar feeling. I didn’t learn how to make kimchi until much later, maybe 5 or 6 years ago. I told my mom that I wanted to learn to make her kimchi, and Korean grandmas don’t have recipes written down. I sat down with her and everything she threw in the bowl, I caught it, measured it, took photos, and wrote out notes. I turned it into a recipe and have been making it ever since. I have quite a few of her recipes, but I’m working on getting more. I started a recipe section on my site, kreamkimchi.com, and plan to share these recipes there. Kimchi jjigae is one that my brother and I loved (and still love), which is pretty much a kimchi stew with hot dogs and bacon. When we were little, we would eat the spicy meat and push the kimchi aside (we were picky). Years later, I acquired the taste for kimchi and love everything Korean!
HL: I can relate to so much of this, Virgil! I love how you call MTV your teacher. I feel as a latchkey kid myself, MTV was a huge part of my childhood as well. It’s wonderful you are wanting to learn your mother’s recipes and coming at it from an almost research-based approach. This ensures nothing is missed, which is important when it comes to recipes that involve so much attention and love.
Considering you love kimchi jjigae so much, do you foresee doing different takes on your mother’s recipes as time goes on? If so, what do you feel will be your first “guinea pig” recipe?
VD: I am glad to hear that you, too, had MTV as part of your upbringing. I could watch it all day. It’s a bummer that MTV is not that anymore.
A lot of the Korean food I make is different takes of my mom’s cooking. My mom makes japchae (sweet potato noodles with veggies), and she makes it with great steak, but I triple the mushrooms and do a vegetarian take of this classic dish. I think it’s better without meat, and this is from someone who loves meat. I also make tacos with Korean BBQ, something my mom never did. I also have been messing around with a bulgogi cheesesteak. While I think it’s important to know where the recipe comes from, there’s nothing wrong with updating those recipes and combining it with other cultural recipes. My mom’s kimchi jjigae isn’t traditional as most Koreans use pork belly and pork shoulder. She just knew that the way to our childhood hearts was through bacon and hot dogs!
HL: I love this! Such wonderful sounding recipes with a fresh take! Tell us, what do you want for the future of K.R.E.A.M. Konsulting? Do you anticipate hiring folks to help out as you grow bigger? Lastly, if you could work with one cook/chef/celebrity, who would it be?
VD: So, I have two businesses under one business. K.R.E.A.M. Konsulting is my consulting business that helps businesses tell their story through community development. KREAM Kimchi is the kimchi business. Because of COVID, my consulting business lost all of its clients. I have a few potential clients that I hope to work with later this year, though. With KREAM Kimchi, I am looking at commercial kitchens and plan to hire someone to help me make kimchi. I hope to add a subscription service so that people can get a jar or two each month. And when I get my commercial license, I plan to start selling to restaurants and shops. I hope to be able to help small businesses grow through my consulting work, and I hope to be Colorado’s kimchi dealer. I also want to inspire people to cook delicious food in their homes with or without kimchi!
If I could cook with one cook/chef/celebrity, I’d love to cook with Ann Kim. If you don’t know Ann Kim, she won the best chef of the Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. She has three Korean inspired pizza restaurants in Minneapolis, and she’s a badass by every measure. She wrote a tweet after winning this award that said, “8 years ago, I almost bought a Jimmy Johns franchise in Cottage Grove b/c I was afraid to open my own restaurant. Fuck fear. Lesson learned. Love your food!” I got to heat at Young Joni last year, and it was amazing, and I’m so in awe of her story. I recommend listening to her on the David Chang podcast!
HL: It’s interesting how one layer of your business entity has grown and is now supporting the other. But with both aspects of your business, it’s apparent that community is a huge part of your business model and yourself on a personal level. Do you feel this is how all businesses should operate? With the community in mind?
Fuck fear is such a great mantra to use, especially opening a business in the middle of a pandemic! Hearing your story, I’m sure will motivate and give courage to those who are still on the fence, wondering what to do. Do you see yourself as a role model at all?
VD: I believe community is the most important piece of the puzzle for businesses, families, friends, government, everything. If you support your community, your community will support you back. I truly believe that. I think many businesses could be better participants in their community.
I feel awkward saying that I’m a role model, but I intend to inspire others to be better versions of themselves, and I try to be the best version of myself. I also want to inspire people to leave jobs that don’t appreciate them if they can, and if you have a side hustle, now is a great time to make that your focus. And if you don’t have a dude hustle, now is a great time to find one. Life is too short of having a work-life balance that is off or to work for someone who doesn’t appreciate your contribution.
And to answer your question, if someone thinks that makes me a role model, I won’t object.
HL: Great insight and advice, Virgil! Last question, if folks want to help a small business grow and support them, but don’t have a lot of money, what can they do?
VD: If someone wants to support local, small businesses and can’t support them financially, they can share their posts on social media, tell friends about these businesses, and support events these businesses might be putting on. You can rate and review these businesses on review sites, and there could be opportunities to volunteer for these businesses. Purchasing products might be more expensive than the product made by a big corporation, but that money stays in your community and supports the people in your community.
Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019), which was featured in Entropy’s Best Fiction List of 2019, and was a finalist for the Big Other Book Award. Currently, she runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series, and freelances as a writer, editor, journalist, and teaches writing at Lighthouse Writers. She is a Kenyon Review scholarship recipient for 2021. Her writing is found both in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Denver Quarterly, Hobart, and others. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at hillaryleftwich.com.
Photo credit: Stephanie Minior