CYstarters Spotlight: Chingu BBQ

By Lindsey Murray | ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship

CYstarters Spotlight: A 15-part series highlighting student entrepreneurs pursuing their business ventures as part of the CYstarters 2023 summer cohort. Through this program, students have the unique opportunity to prioritize the development of their own startup or business idea. Each individual receives $6,500 and access to resources such as mentorship, networking opportunities, and educational sessions on entrepreneurship and business startup.

Andrew Nguyen (20), a second-generation immigrant from Vietnam, is not only an enthusiastic student entrepreneur but also a Korean barbecue aficionado. When it comes to entrepreneurship, Nguyen loves everything about it. Unlike most business owners, he’s especially excited about the risk involved in starting a business. When it comes to Korean barbecue, he can never satisfy his craving and will do whatever it takes to get his fix.

Nguyen is the founder of Chingu BBQ: a meal kit that includes everything you need to create authentic Korean barbecue in the comfort of your own home. Traditionally, Korean barbecue is the method of grilling marinated meats at the dining table. It is not just a meal, but an experience meant to be shared. At Chingu BBQ, each meal kit is delivered straight to your door for ease and convenience, with a wide variety of proteins, vegetables and dipping sauces from which to choose. Although Korean barbecue has been enjoyed for centuries, it has had a recent spike in popularity, and Chingu BBQ hopes to make enjoying the cultural experience more accessible and affordable.

The road to entrepreneurship

Inspired by his family’s journey from nothing to building their own success, Nguyen has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. His father, at the age of 12, left behind the familiar sights and sounds of home to escape the war-torn country of Vietnam. He came to the United States where he was brought up in the foster-care system. Nguyen shared that after his father’s challenging upbringing, he knew he wanted better for his own family, “…so they had to carve their own path.” Together, Nguyen’s parents have started several successful businesses in Peoria, Illinois.

From a young age, Nguyen remembers being driven by curiosity and the need to seek solutions for unsolved problems That is still what drives him today. As a high school student, he came across a video from Iowa State University that highlighted the university’s focus on innovation. He was intrigued, and as he continued to research the school, he was blown away by the opportunities available to students, including programs provided by the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. Nguyen applied and was accepted to ISU. Unlike many college freshmen, he knew from the start that he would major in entrepreneurship and would eventually apply for the CYstarters program.

Nguyen dressed in a traditional Korean outfit while visiting South Korea in the summer of 2022.

Nguyen enjoying authentic Korean barbecue while in South Korea.

During the summer of 2022, before heading into his sophomore year at ISU, Nguyen traveled to South Korea to pursue a marketing internship with Traveling alone to a foreign country and with no financial assistance was one of the biggest risks he’d ever taken. The opportunity opened his eyes to a new culture and an entirely new perspective on international business and entrepreneurship. While there, Nyugen led a team to develop an e-learning platform that was accessible to U.S. educational institutions. He spent most of his time outside of work experiencing authentic Korean barbecue while being surrounded by new peers and business professionals.

Nguyen left South Korea three months later with a deeper desire to start something of his own. Back in Ames, Iowa, Nguyen quickly identified a problem he was set on solving. He noticed a complete lack of Korean barbecue restaurants in the area and decided, “Okay, I’m really craving Korean BBQ. I want to do something about this.” The solution? Chingu BBQ.

Leveling up with CYstarters

Chingu BBQ started out as an idea for a full-fledged restaurant in the fall of 2022. As the events of the Covid-19 pandemic played out and many restaurants went under, he adapted to the times and pivoted to a deliverable meal kit. He pitched the idea at the College-by-College Pitch Off and it was well received. With encouragement from CYstarters alum, Pradyumna (P.D.) Dahal, he applied to CYstarters and was accepted into the 2023 summer cohort. 

The original Chingu BBQ prototype.

Over the last 9 weeks, Nguyen has made great progress towards launching Chingu BBQ. He connected with his local mentor, Ray Schmidt of Farm Story Meats, to gain insight into establishing supplier relationships and understand supplier issues many businesses are currently facing. He also developed a prototype and is working on product packaging and shipping details. His next goal is to create a website to officially launch his business.

Outside of the tangible goals he has already achieved, his biggest takeaway from the program so far is understanding his “why” for starting Chingu BBQ. It started as a simple desire for his favorite meal but has transformed into a deep recognition of his love of cooking and community. His new desire is to raise awareness of the culture of communal cooking that is Korean barbecue.

Heading into his junior year, Nguyen plans to graduate early and stay in Ames to take his business full-time. He is looking forward to opportunities for growth and spreading the good word of Korean barbecue to the masses. Follow along on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to see what’s next for Andrew and Chingu BBQ.