As the owner of McReynold’s Liquors, Matthew Kimwon celebrated his 10th anniversary operating the quintessential Foggy Bottom liquor store this month, where he’s racked up a long list of memorable interactions with students and other patrons throughout his career.
The family-owned business is not only the go-to liquor store for students, but it has also emerged as an integral part of the community where customers commemorate their most special moments – from popping the bubbly after Joe Biden’s presidential election win to taking photoshoots after Commencement. Kimwon’s favorite part of the job is meeting new student customers – encounters that elicit “inspiration” for the store owner because of their youthful nature as they pop into the store to pick up drinks before scrambling off to their campus get-togethers.
“They always have bright smiles, and I can get very good energy from you guys,” he said. “That’s one of the favorite things to do while operating business.”
If you’re a regular, you may recognize Kimwon and his wife, who both work at the store and emigrated with their two children from South Korea to the United States in 2011. Kimwon, the fourth owner of the business, said he moved to the United States so his children could grow up in an environment that wasn’t as heavily competitive academically as South Korea.
Upon arriving in the United States, he said the language barrier made it difficult for him to find a job, so he decided to take over the business in 2013 from a member of the church he attended in Maryland who was retiring.
“To prepare for getting a job, companies take too long of a time to learn a new language and cultures, blah, blah,” Kimwon said. “But while preparing for the job market, I have to support my family too. So as soon as I land, I have to start my business.”
Since opening the store on G Street, Kimwon said he’s received memorable visits from the likes of a White House spokesperson during the administration of former President Donald Trump, a Florida governor and even a rapper who came to film a music video in the store. He said he enjoys seeing students and their parents stop at McReynold’s after GW’s commencement ceremonies so they can take pictures in front of the store.
Kimwon has sold students and D.C. residents celebratory drinks for iconic moments in their own lives and in the country as a whole. He said he remembers when Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election sent students flooding into the streets, crying in celebration and taking pictures outside the store.
“Everybody got on the street to celebrate Biden’s election, and then we sold all the bubbly drinks, champagnes, we sold out everything, first time,” he said.
But one of the most heartwarming stories to take place in McReynold’s might be an unexpected love story. Kimwon said on one especially busy night last year, two customers waiting in line struck up a conversation, which led to a budding romance. He said the couple later returned to the business to tell them they’d started dating, and the pair still regularly returns to the store together.
Kimwon not only remembers distinct moments with students, but he has also witnessed the evolution of students’ drink of choice over his 10 years as owner. When he first began working at the store, cheap beer like Bud Light and Budweiser held the crown for most popular.
But more recently, GW is apparently a tequila school. Kimwon said hard seltzer and tequila have taken the place of popular brews, partly powered by the rise in celebrity-owned brands like Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila.
“From a couple years ago, tequila business boomed a lot,” he said.
While the pandemic stifled business from tourists and office workers, Kimwon said he’s proud to have a loyal student customer base of not only GW students but students from American and Georgetown universities as well. He said the store offers a 10 percent discount on beer, wine, seltzers and other low-alcohol beverages for students to “help their wallet.”
“I have a college student as my son, but, as you know, one of the United States’ social problems is too expensive student debt, so that means you don’t have enough allowance to spend to enjoy,” he said. “And you have to study hard and work hard together, so that’s why we try to help students with providing some discount.”
At the store, Kimwon’s day-to-day operations include ordering new shipments to the store, stocking, cleaning, checking inventory and merchandising – all of which add up to more than 12 hours of work most days of the week. But he said he loves the daily job and the spot he holds in the local community.
“Having interaction with you guys is very happy for me, and I can get very good energy from youth,” he said.
Students have found a similar sense of welcoming within the store. Junior Caroline Dejoy, who is majoring in interior architecture, said the store offers a “bonding activity” for students who go on McReynold’s runs together. She credits McReynold’s friendly environment and smaller size to the store’s popularity among students.
“Going to Whole Foods, it’s a big store, but McReynold’s feels smaller, more intimate, and also more willing to help you,” she said.
Seniors Sidney Grimsley and Connor Christopher said they ran to McReynold’s after Biden won the 2020 election, where they found customers lined out the door and patrons drinking celebratory champagne in the store. The pair, who said they go to McReynolds about once a month, said the store is crucial in fostering “community bonding,” whether that be through supplying alcohol for parties or providing a place to run into friends they might not have seen in a while.
“I like going there because it’s a cultural institution at GW,” Grimsley said. “The girlboss running the front counter is truly changing lives. It just has a campus community feel.”
Shea Carlberg contributed reporting.
This article appeared in the January 30, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.