Peter Kim, now a successful owner of Yummy Korean Bar-B-Q, was discovered by UH assistant coach Ron Lee and given scholarships by former UH head coach Dick Tomey and Alabama legend Paul "Bear" Bryant.


Peter Kim began his career at UH
and ended it on a national stage

Jones waits to name QB starter

By Dave Reardon

A wispy 19-year-old sophomore from Hawaii by way of Korea wandered the vast football dormitory at the University of Alabama. His few friends were gone, spending the holiday with their families.

Alone in the huge building, he got scared. He went out for a walk.

Tuscaloosa, Ala., was closed for the long weekend 23 years ago. So was the cafeteria; the one where on his first day he didn't know where to sit -- at the tables with only blacks or the ones with only whites.

He walked the ghost-town streets until he found an open sandwich shop.

He communicated enough to order a meal and sat down to Thanksgiving dinner.

Peter Kim was lonely, but he had reason to be grateful. The day before, Crimson Tide coach Paul "Bear" Bryant presented him with a football scholarship.

"The happiest moments of my life," Kim said. "I ran back so fast to the dorm to call my parents, I think I could have played running back."

Three months earlier, Kim walked on nearly unannounced and consistently kicked 62-yard field goals in practice.

The same strong leg got his football career started in Hawaii.

Kaiser High School coach Ron Lee, now a UH assistant, saw the newly arrived immigrant playing soccer.

"I saw he wasn't making any goals. All his shots were going over the goal," Lee says. "We had him come out and kick a few bags of balls. We soon found out that in addition to having a great leg he was great during crunch time. He was never afraid to go out there and take a shot."

Hawaii vs. Alabama

When: Tomorrow, 2:45 p.m, gates open 11:15 a.m.

Where: Aloha Stadium

Tickets: Sold out


Radio: 1420-AM

Dick Tomey gave him a scholarship at Hawaii, but Kim says he left Manoa for Tuscaloosa for two reasons -- to learn English and to win a national championship in football.

"It was nothing against Coach Tomey. I learned a lot from him. When I told him, he said basically I was going to the wrong part of the United States to learn to speak English," Kim says. "However, today when I look back, I tell you, I think going to Alabama was the best decision I have ever made. I wanted to go somewhere where I'd be as far away from a Korean community as I could, be on my own, do my own wash. It's the reason I'm where I'm at today."

That's a pretty good place to be. Kim is the CEO of the Yummy Management Company, one of the few successful business ventures in Hawaii in the past 15 years. Hawaii's Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 has 32 restaurants with Yummy Korean Bar-B-Q the flagship of eight different food concepts. His newest restaurant is in Las Vegas, and he plans to open several in California. Kim held the Aloha Stadium concession contract for a while, and named some of his stands after Bryant.

The 42-year-old millionaire speaks in a confident and unique voice. You have to really listen, but his Korean accent (Kim moved to Hawaii with his family when he was 15) does have a bit of a Southern drawl to it. Every now and then a pidgin Hawaiian word or inflection picked up from his days at Kaiser High School sneaks in there, too.

"It really depends who I'm talking to," Kim says. "My Southern accent is coming out this week because I have friends from Alabama visiting."

Who will he root for tomorrow at Aloha Stadium when his alma maters meet?

Kim laughs.

"I'll decide when I get there," he says.

But the box of Crimson Tide pompons in his office is a dead giveaway.

Alabama didn't win any of its 12 national championships in the three years he was there. But Kim did indeed learn some of the finer points of the English language in Tuscaloosa -- and a few other things.

Always give 100 percent. Respect others. Expect the unexpected. Prepare for life after football.

These things he learned from Bryant, whom many -- including Kim -- consider the greatest football coach ever.

Bryant's philosophy sounds overly simple today, maybe even trite, to ears that have heard such ideals expressed many times. But for a young man from another country learning the language and the culture in 1979, the words meant everything.

"You know, I only met with him on a one-on-one basis maybe 10 times the three years I was there," Kim said. "But he had such an impact on everyone. When he walked into a meeting room everyone sat up a little straighter, no one even thought of sneezing."

Kim, the first soccer-style kicker in Tide history, finished his three-year career with 207 points on 96 extra points and 37 field goals. His last game was also Bryant's last game.

"He impressed on us how important it was for the seniors to win for their own future. How winning your last game can make a difference in the rest of your life," Kim recalls. "He said win for ourselves, not for him."

Kim was in the Tampa area trying to break into pro football when Bryant died in 1983.

"His procession line was 5 miles long," Kim says. "Cars were lined up for 60 miles on I-59 trying to get there to pay their respects."

When recurring injuries curtailed his pro-football aspirations, Kim decided he wanted to become an agent for the FBI or the ATF.

"That still intrigues me," he says.

While going through the lengthy process of background checks, and in Kim's case, attaining U.S. citizenship, he returned to Hawaii to help his family start a small restaurant business.

"My intention was to help them for six months and go back to my goal of becoming a special agent. I had some time to kill," Kim says. "But our business took off. I gave 100 percent for six months and we ended up opening five stores in one year. Our business got too big too fast and I couldn't leave. So I'm still here."

The way Kim figures it, he might have never left UH in the first place if not for the Rainbows' 56-10 loss at Nebraska in 1979 and the Sugar Bowl game he watched on TV in which Alabama beat Penn State a few weeks later.

The visit to Lincoln, Neb., clued Kim in on a whole different world -- the world of big-time college football.

"The entire town was red. I thought it was some kind of red day or something," Kim says. "When we got to the stadium and I saw 75,000 people in red, it clicked on me. Hey, it's the school color."

Then he saw red again, or rather, Crimson, and knew where he wanted to go. Alabama beat Penn State 14-7 for the national championship on New Year's Day 1979, and Kim was smitten.

"They stopped Penn State on the 6-inch line," Kim says. "I wanted to find out if I had the talent to succeed at the national level. I wanted to find out about myself."

Peter Kim's second Thanksgiving at Tuscaloosa was a lot less lonely than the first.

Henry and Mary Grigsby became his home-away-from-home parents.

"They took me under their wings and took care of me," Kim said.

The Grigsbys are here this weekend for the Hawaii-Alabama game and Kim is returning the favor in the style only a millionaire can.

If you ask Kim, he has the Bear to thank.

UH Athletics

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