The Portland food community lost a Portland icon this weekend: Matt Choi, co-owner of Choi’s Kimchi, was fatally stabbed in his Southeast Portland apartment building early Sunday morning. According to police reports, Portland Police responded to the 300 block on SE 12th Avenue around 2 a.m. on October 25; although Choi was treated by medics on the scene, he later died from his wounds.
Choi co-founded the local kimchi brand with his mother Chong Suk Choi in 2011 — the pair were staples at farmers markets, selling jars of kimchi that the two made in their Gresham home. Within a few years, the kimchi became a staple in kitchens across the city, topping bowls of raw fish at Poke Mon, stocked in the refrigerators of countless grocery stores, and draped over tofu on sandwiches at Stacked. The family’s white napa kimchi took home top honors at the Good Food Awards in 2016, and the spicy napa kimchi now ships nationwide. Han Ly Hwang, the owner of Korean food cart Kim Jong Grillin, told the Oregonian that Matt Choi “is the reason Portland loves kimchi.”
Portland Farmers Market posted a memorial to its Instagram account, remembering his “cheerful spirit, broad knowledge of food production and generous heart.”
“Matt was a wonderful leader and mentor in the food artisan community,” the statement reads. “He built close ties with other vendors, offered support and spread his friendliness with all.”
These sentiments were echoed by many across social media, including New Seasons Market and Marshall’s Haute Sauce. “A fellow cabbage lover, he was always quick with a smile and eager to spread the word about his mom’s delicious kimchi,” reads a statement posted on the Instagram of Real Good Food, an independent market. “Matt was an integral part of our city’s small food-business scene, and we’ll really, really miss him.”
Choi’s colleagues and collaborators often described him as warm and approachable, willing to share his perspective and expertise; he and his mother often shared kimchi recipes with outlets like Sunset and OPB. “Matt Choi was one of the good ones: generous with his knowledge and praise, hardworking, and creative; a testament to everything we want our food community to be and a poster child for the American Dream,” says Heather Arndt Anderson, Portland writer and food historian and acquaintance of the Chois. “He also helped make kimchi a standard food in Portland households. His unfathomable death is a shock — and a tragedy to anyone who’d ever had the good fortune of knowing him.”
Those who knew Choi before he accrued kimchi fame describe him as “very funny, clever, non-judgmental, (and) accepting,” noting his love of hip hop and video games. “I never felt like he was trying to be anybody but himself,” one former Gresham High School classmate says.
A GoFundMe campaign started by David Jin had a $10,000 goal for funeral expenses for Choi. The fundraiser quickly met and exceeded the goal, raising over $30,000 by Wednesday morning. Organizers for the campaign have said that funds would be used to pay for funeral expenses, with the surplus going to a charity in Choi’s name.
At the moment, no suspect has been named in the attack, but those with information should contact Portland Police.
• Matthew Choi’s Memorial [GoFundMe]
• Friends pay tribute to Choi’s Kimchi co-founder Matt Choi after fatal stabbing at SE Portland home [O]
• Matt Choi, Co-Founder of Choi’s Kimchi, Was Killed in His Southeast Portland Apartment Early Sunday Morning [WWeek]
• Victim identified - stabbing death in Buckman neighborhood [PPB]