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My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store [Kindle Edition]

Ben Ryder Howe
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

This warm and funny tale of an earnest preppy editor finding himself trapped behind the counter of a Brooklyn convenience store is about family, culture and identity in an age of discombobulation.

It starts with a gift, when Ben Ryder Howe's wife, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decides to repay her parents' self-sacrifice by buying them a store. Howe, an editor at the rarefied Paris Review, agrees to go along. Things soon become a lot more complicated. After the business struggles, Howe finds himself living in the basement of his in-laws' Staten Island home, commuting to the Paris Review offices in George Plimpton's Upper East Side townhouse by day, and heading to Brooklyn at night to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets. My Korean Deli follows the store's tumultuous life span, and along the way paints the portrait of an extremely unlikely partnership between characters with shoots across society, from the Brooklyn streets to Seoul to Puritan New England. Owning the deli becomes a transformative experience for everyone involved as they struggle to salvage the original gift--and the family--while sorting out issues of values, work, and identity.

Product Description


"In this WASP-out-of-water tale of a "Paris Review" editor moonlighting as deli owner--or is it the other way around?--Howe plunges boldly into life's ultimate mysteries: marriage, money, cohabitation with in-laws, the yin-yang currents of striving and slacking, and--perhaps the biggest mystery of them all--why the store can be empty of customers for hours and hours, and then twenty show up at once. Read this book, and you'll come away wiser not just in the ways of the world, but of the human heart as well."--Ben Fountain, author of "Brief Encounters with Che Guevara"""""My Korean Deli" is about a Korean deli, as I expected. But it's also about love, culture-clashes, family, money and literature. Plus, it happens to be very funny and poignant. So buy a Slim Jim and a Vitamin water and sit down to enjoy it."--A.J. Jacobs, author of "The Know It All" and "The Year of Living Biblically""I don't know how else to explain "My Korean Deli" except to say that Ben Ryder Howe has made kimchi. As in that splendid staple dish of Korea, the mundane (cabbage/Brooklyn) is combined with the piquant (crazy spices/families) and pickled (natural fermentation/a job at the Paris Review). The result is overpoweringly good. But "My""Korean Deli" will sweeten your reading rather than stinking up your house and will give you deep thoughts not breath that can kill mice in the walls."--P.J. O'Rourke"It's hard not to fall in love with "My Korean Deli."..[It] tells a rollicking, made-for-the-movies story in a wonderfully funny deadpan style. By the end, you'll feel that you know the author and his family quite well -- even though you may not be eager to move in with them."--"The New York Times Book Review""As he leapfrogs from Staten Island to Brooklyn to the "Review..."Howe gains new understanding of life on both sides of the register--the deli is revealed to be a fickle friend, perpetually seesawing between financial promise and ruin, but also magical, a place touched with a

About the Author

Ben Ryder Howe has written for "The New Yorker," "The Atlantic Monthly," and "Outside," and his work has been selected for "Best American Travel Writing." He is a former senior editor of "The Paris Review." He, his wife, and their two children live on Staten Island. This is his first book.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 412 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; Reprint edition (1 Mar. 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004IZM6PK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #796,808 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous memoir... 29 Mar. 2011
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
To me, the best memoirs begin with the author thinking and acting one way and through the course of the book, changes and comes out, if not a better person, at least a different person. Ben Ryder Howe seems to have done this very thing and he writes beautifully about it in "My Korean Deli: Risking it All for a Convenience Store".

Ben, a WASP from many generations of Bostonians settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts, married his college girlfriend, Gab Pak. Ben is from a laid-back family but Gab, a lawyer by training, is the child of first generation Korean immigrants who have come to this country with a fierce can-do attitude. Nothing is impossible in this golden land of opportunity if you work hard enough. The Paks, Kay and Edward, have raised and educated three children, through the ethic of hard work. Ben and Gab, together for ten years when the book opens right after 9/11, have moved in with the Paks - in their basement on Staten Island - and are considering buying Kay Pac a deli she can manage, as a sort of "thank you" for raising Gab. Ben is an editor at the "Paris Review" and Gab has a job at a law firm, working long hours. They see the deli as a way of working together and making enough money to move out from their basement dwelling.

I don't suppose you could find two societal opposites than the offices of the "Paris Review" and a Korean deli. It would be like going from the equator to the North Pole, yet both exist in today's New York City. Ben straddles the two worlds - WASP and ethnic - for the three years he and his in-laws own and operate the deli they buy in Brooklyn. As Ben bounces from one place - and one life - to the other on a daily basis, he learns about himself and his possibilities in a very visceral way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great taste of NYC 13 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Being a shop owner, I could very much identify with much of the authors lifestyle. It was made all the better that it was set in my favourite city. The book gave a great feel for the neighbourhood in which it was set as well as other areas in the city. Full of natural drama, sometimes humorous,surprising, uplifting and also some sadness. Well worth a read.
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113 of 115 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The American Immigrant Experience - on Steroids 21 Feb. 2011
By nekko1 - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I was predisposed to like this book because I come from a family of Asian drycleaners. Much of Howe's descriptions and stories hit close to home - the long, soul-breaking hours, the lack of vacation of any kind (who will watch the shop???), the co-dependent family members who work there (to keep costs down and workman's comp costs down), the demanding customers, and the dangerous late night trips home with bundles of cash through sketchy neighborhoods. Been there, done that.

And yet when you have limited English and only your strong back and stronger will, you take on the significant risks of small business such as the deli, the drycleaner or the gas station as it is a path to financial success that is open to you.

Kay, Howe's mother in law, is the archetypical tough nut who suspiciously peers over the counter of a Korean grocer in a large urban city. This story puts a face on the kinds of struggles, the kinds of risks, the kinds of grueling physical labor people go through to make a go of it, while telling humourous, if slightly horrifying, stories of what it actually means to be behind that counter.

Howe does a great job of using humor to tell the backstory behind what it takes to deal with the deliverymen and all their tricks, the store's crumbling infrastructure, the crazy customers, the rude customers, the staff, some of who need psychological help and most dangerous of all the City Inspectors. I laughed loudly at his stunned reactions to what he was seeing happen in front of him. (And I remember thinking thank goodness the drycleaners closes at 7 pm!)

I do wish he had a stronger finish. The individual voices began to fade in the last quarter of the book. Perhaps this was by design to bring things to a close but I felt like towards the end he faltered on his original premise of the quirks and strengths of the individual players and their contributions to the strength and health of the deli.
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FALLING IN LOVE WITH A DELI 11 Feb. 2011
By David Keymer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In 2003, Ben Ryder Howe was a struggling, underpaid senior editor (titles were cheap) at the Paris Review. His wife Gab brings in the big money in the family, working countless billable hours as a lawyer. Nine months earlier, they'd moved in with Gab's Korean parents in order to save money to buy a house. Then Gabbie started worrying about Kay's, her mother's, emotional health. Kay, whom Howe characterized as "the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers", had always been a dynamo but she was starting to look peaked. Several months later, Ben, Gab and Gab's family buy Kay a convenience store, a deli across the bridge from Staten Island, where they lived, in Brooklyn. Then life really became complicated.

They only operated the deli for a few years but while they did, Ben learned things about himself and came to a heightened appreciation of the values of his immigrant, go-getter, survive-anything immigrant in-laws.

Howe is a good comic writer. The book is loaded with zingers, like these:

On the difference between Ben's upbringing (Plymouth, Mass, Wasp) and Gab's (first generation Korean American): "In America, kids are supposed to antagonize their parents: they're supposed to torture them as teenagers, abandon them in college, then write as memoir in which they blame them for all their unhappiness as adults. But in Korea they serve them forever, without a second thought."

(Ben's grandmother once said to him: "You're not supposed to talk about Wasp values. You're just supposed to have them.")

On living in Staten Island, "New York City's pariah borough, a place where once-hot trends like Hummers and spitting go to die, a place so forsaken that not even Starbucks would set up a store there, nor even the most enterprising Thai restaurant owner."

On his Korean mother-in-law, Kay: "The second she thinks of something, it has to be done, usually by herself. ... Once she got fined by the sanitation department for putting her garbage out too soon."

This is a lovely book, infused with gentle humor and wry wit, and featuring character who, no matter how eccentric they appear, are on balance admirable.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, yet infuriating 21 April 2011
By Timothy Wilkinson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book wasn't exactly what I was expecting. In a way it was, as it's a fish-out-of-water story about how the author, an uptight white male (who absolutely will not let you forget this he is a PURITAN) bought a deli with his Korean wife with the plan of one day turning it over to his mother-in-law. There are shenanigans, life lessons learned and the PURITAN learns to loosen up, which of course helps him at his "real" job as an editor of a prestigious literary magazine. I'm sure they make the movie it'll have Owen Wilson in it.

That's a bit of an oversimplification, and an unfair one at that. Truthfully, there's quite a bit to like in this book. Howe's got a great eye for characters and his portrayal of his family and friends are easily the best part of the book. Other moments, like when he explains what makes his mother-in-law tick, are positively heartbreaking.

The thing that drove me absolutely bonkers is that the book switches back and forth between "narrative" to "literary" at the worst times. Howe is great at building tension, especially when the catalyst is one of his own mistakes, only to gloss over any kind of real resolution. In one scene he goes nuts and orders an insane amount of gourmet food when the store is already on the brink of failure. We see his wife get angry with him, then we move on to something totally different, left to assume that everything somehow worked itself out.

The second half is largely like that, filled with insights and life lessons at the expense of the actual story. It's well written and interesting to read, but it just doesn't work for me personally. If you're going to set up a conflict you better damn well be willing to resolve it in the same amount of detail if you want me to keep reading.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smashing Memoir By A Man Straddling Two Worlds . . . . 9 Feb. 2011
By Sunday - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
By day, Ben Ryder Howe is a part-time senior editor at "The Paris Review", which is being run by George Plimpton in a "La-La Land" sort of way. By night, he is a clerk in a Korean convenience store being run by his mother-in-law in a "This Is The Real World" sort of way. Mr. Howe and his wife bought his in-laws the store, because his wife felt guilty about all the sacrifices her immigrant parents made for her, working so hard to put her through college and law school. Thus, she decided to pay back her mother by buying her a store of her own . . . I guess so her mother could work harder than she had ever worked before in her entire life!

They all end up working there, in a Brooklyn neighborhood with all different ethnic groups, dealing with customers, employees, suppliers and the city of New York. The customers range from normal people stopping by in the morning for a cup of coffee, to crazy guys coming in at night and taking off their clothes. The employees range from the elderly woman who did not realize she was suppose to turn on the coffee hot plate in the morning, before selling customers coffee, to the super efficient and super chatty Dwayne Wright, the employee they inherited from the previous owner. (The book is dedicated to Dwayne Wright, and don't miss reading the dedication page, where Mr. Wright is quoted defining "Wizard of Oz disease".)

As Ben Ryder Howe goes between his day job and night job, he reflects on the differences and similarities between the two worlds and the people who live in each world. He is a boarding school WASP, with ancestors traced back to the Mayflower, so there is a lot to reflect on. Some nights in the store he has a lot of time to reflect, too, and can't help doing so, since life starts seeming a bit surrealistic late at night in a Korean deli. He also describes such things as driving home to Staten Island at 1 AM, when there is not much traffic, and how a late summer sunset looks in Brooklyn. In other words, this book is as interesting as it sounds, and is a gold mine of descriptions and reflections.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stressful, but very funny. 9 May 2011
By Mommy Kind - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a great insight to what it's like to have Korean workaholics for in-laws. My husband is reading this book and really enjoying it. He's kicking himself for not writing about what it's like to work for my Dad at a gas station/convenience store. We can relate with Ben on some of the stressful situations that come with that work. It's definitely best to have a sense of humor when you're working a minimum wage job for your family.

What's really lovable about this book are the characters. The mother-in-law, Kay, is a crazy workaholic (like my Dad) and the wife, Gab, is a slightly more Americanized version of her mother. I was really interested in Kay's background and her husband's background. George Plimpton is like an exaggerated version of old money silliness. The best character is Dwayne, the cashier. Dwayne's a hard-core convenience store employee. He's like a combination of a gangster, bouncer, and a philosopher. We all need a Dwayne in the convenience store/deli world.

It's crazy in the world of New York convenience stores/delis, but I enjoyed reading about Howe's account. I look forward to hearing about what their next family business will be.
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