Sungki Lee, owner of Nanta, brings Korean karaoke fun to the YYC bar scene

When Sungki Lee, known by his friends as Ricky, first immigrated to Calgary, he had a horrible late night job serving fast food. Now he serves up his own food, while bringing a bit of his home culture to the city.

Sungki arrived to Calgary from South Korea through a work visa, earning his stay here by doing different jobs around the city.

“When I came to Canada it was to visit my brother. That was five years ago. I didn’t even know how to speak English well.”

While visiting his brother, he worked at Subway making sandwiches for the 2 a.m. crowd who had come in after a night of drinking. With that experience he was able to pick up more and more of the English language.

“It was the worst job I had. I couldn’t speak English at all, but I was able to memorize orders from people who would come by and was able to learn through that.”

English wasn’t the only thing he picked up at Subway. The job taught him how to deal with different kinds of people, a skill he now uses as the owner of Nanta, a karaoke bar downtown.

“I was drinking at this bar, and the guy who was running the place asked me if I wanted to run the place myself. Some time later, here I am with a karaoke bar.”

Some of his first customers were Asians but eventually more and more non-Asians came to drink at his bar.

“One night, it was when ‘Gangnam Style‘ was big, a bunch of white guys told us to put it on so they could sing…they couldn’t by the way. So a couple of my employees went up and helped them sing the Korean parts. White guys doing that little dance, it was pretty funny.”

As a bar owner, Lee deals with a lot of those kinds of customers. On an average weekend he can get up to 200 customers. With each spending $20 to $50. They come to sing and drink, and that’s what Lee provides them.

“It was pretty hard coming here, but when I got the bar I made a lot of friends. They would come up to me, hug me and say, ‘Hey Ricky!’” he said.

“[When] it was my birthday a bunch of my regulars came over to my bar and they brought over three cakes. That night I poured shots, a lot of shots, it was a fun night. I think that’s what the people who come over to my bar want, a good time, good beer and to sing.”

mmorales@cjournal.ca