"What's up, Will?"
"Save a bag, save a tree, Jay."
"Step on up, that's all you, brother!"
Watching Kim please the heavy-with-regulars crowd - he knows everyone - it's easy to assume the guy's a vet. But he's only been at SPOT since February - a natural act with an unnatural knack for burgercraft.
Kim, 38, spent his earliest years in the South Philly projects. His parents, Korean War refugees, started out hawking apparel on Broad Street and Snyder Avenue. At 14, Kim moved with his family to Lafayette Hill, where he landed his first job in an unremarkable pizza parlor. A year in, "a real hard-nosed Sicilian" bought the joint and shook the bottle.
"The entire place changed," said Kim, whose new boss did things the old-fashioned way. "He said, 'If you don't know how to make it from scratch, don't make it.' And he was right." Business nearly tripled.
After running a local seafood restaurant and doing a stint at UArts, Kim married his first wife and had his first child at 21. Kitchen work was his steadiest source of cash. A self-described "great communicator," thanks to the example set by his minister father, Kim later found himself in sales. Those gigs, in particular a high-demand position with a home-security firm, paid the bills but never dampened Kim's attraction to cooking.
"It was a six-figure job, and I hated it," he said.
He went to work for his uncle, operating and servicing ATMs around Philly. He also started his own merchant-services company. He hated that, too.
The now-remarried father of four, juggling a full-time job and a side business, would browse Craigslist for low-paying line-cook jobs "just to keep myself busy."
One positive of the ATM business was the ubiquity of side deals, easy money for a born talker like Kim. "You meet a lot of business owners and with that comes little windows of opportunity," he said. In June 2011, when the owner of a bodega asked if he knew anyone interested in a hot-dog cart, Kim staked out the struggling operation but didn't think much of the offer.
Encouragement from his mother ("I knew a man who had a hot-dog cart - he made a million dollars!") and a challenge from his wife changed that a few months later. He was watching "The Great Food Truck Race" one day, "and I'm commenting to the TV like [I was] watching sports. My wife's like, 'What the hell do you know?' "
Kim knew he could do better.
His wife said prove it.
Last November, he commissioned Custom of Hammonton, N.J., to build him a new set of wheels. "I didn't have one clue as to what the hell I was going to make," admitted Kim, who rolled out SPOT in West Philly in February.
A patty fanatic with three grills in his back yard, Kim settled on burgers. "I knew that if I was going to do something ordinary, I would have to do it extraordinarily well," he said. He chose flavorful top sirloin; a butcher told Kim he was "flippin' insane" for putting such high-quality meat through a grinder.
Then came the menu. It starts with the SPOT Burger, the 3-to-1 best-seller, which has bacon, cheddar, homemade slaw, pickles and Kim's nine-ingredient SPOT Sauce. Other movers include the Roquefort, that funky blue cheese melded with bacon and balsamic reduction; and the spicy Santa Fe, with avocado, pepperjack and Tapatio Hot Sauce.
Cheesesteaks, hand-cut fries and roast pork round out the base menu, but Kim really distinguishes SPOT with polished specials made from scratch - lobster rolls, Thai coconut seafood chowder and Argentine choripan. His prices rarely exceed $6 and never break $10.
As much as he aims to please the SPOT faithful, Kim is not afraid to share how he feels. "Growing up in South Philadelphia, the people are very principled," he said. "If you stepped on their toes, they'd tell you."
He's quick to let customers know they should be patient, as he's the lone spatula leveling the lunch rush. If you don't specify, he'll cook your burger to medium, a cause of consternation for some. Don't alter your order after you've submitted it, a faux pas Kim refers to as "calling an audible." And let's not even broach the topic of the user review website Yelp.
But the negative stuff accounts for a small percentage of SPOT's day-to-day, an operation Kim, a cook who tricked himself out of cooking for years, promises he does not hate.
"It's the hardest job I've ever had," he said. "But it's the most fun I've ever had in my life."
Drew Lazor has been writing about the local food scene for more than six years. His twice-monthly column focuses on unexpected people doing unexpected things in Philadelphia food. If you come across a chef, restaurant, dish or food-related topic that bears investigation, contact him at email@example.com.