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My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store (2011)

by Ben Ryder Howe

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My Korean Deli: Risking it all for a Convenience Store
by Ben Ryder Howe; narrated by Bronson Pinchot)
8 hours, 52 minutes
(p) 2011, Blackstone Audio, Inc.

The author and his Korean wife buy a deli for her mother as a grand gesture of gratitude on behalf of the daughter. The mother-in-law, Kay, is a hard-working immigrant who channels her drive and ambitions into the Brooklyn store, ensnaring the whole family to work the deli to make it a going concern. Encroaching gentrification, razor thin profit margins, hard line revenue-seeking municipal authorities looking for store violations, eccentric customers and, Howe's cultural and physical ineptness at being a store clerk (rather than the Paris Review editor he really is) are some of the many challenges that the family encounters and meets head-on. The story ends rather anti-climatically, but overall the narrative provides interesting insight as to the workings of a convenience store and the thoughts of the author as he sheds the confines of his WASP upbringing. Bronson Pinchot demonstrates his range of character work without drawing attention to himself or making any of the characters seem like caricatures. His impersonation of George Plimpton is remarkable, but not less noteworthy are the voices he uses for Howe as the story's narrator, the mother-in-law, and the varied ethnic personalities.

Three stars for the book and an additional star for Bronson Pinchot's performance. ( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Mar 13, 2014 |
My Korean Deli was just the sort of random story I love stumbling upon at the library. What I found was this memoir that was, by turns, hilarious and heartbreaking and maybe a little condescending — sometimes many things at once. But what it definitely was? Fun. And insightful.

Depending on the type of reader you are (and the humor you enjoy), I could see how Ben’s attitude and general demeanor could come across as holier-than-thou and annoying. As a well-to-do white man who marries a first-generation Korean-American, there are stark differences between his culture and that of his extended family. Much of the humor stems from misunderstandings between Ben and his mother-in-law, a woman who barely sits still, and just the idea of a condescending editor slicing deli meat after work is pretty hilarious.

In fact, most of the humor came from picturing uptight, sophisticated Ben doing the tasks associated with running a convenience store: getting yelled at by drunk customers; unloading heavy shipments of merchandise; trying to figure out the fearful lottery machine. He just comes across as such a well-meaning snob — but a snob all the same — that you can’t help but laugh at his antics . . . and that’s what I liked about My Korean Deli: I don’t think Ben takes himself that seriously.

I mean, he likes his job at the Review – most of the time. And he prides himself on his literary bent and knowledge. But does he think he’s “too good” to work at the store? Too important to mop floors or befriend his coworkers, especially the always-hilarious Dwayne? Absolutely not. And that’s what made this such a fun read.

Nothing major happens in My Korean Deli . . . the Pak family buys the store, they pour themselves into its upkeep, they ultimately face great struggles. But it’s as entertaining as a tale of running a family business as it is a glimpse into the life of a literary magazine, too: Paris Review editor George Plimpton plays a major role in the narrative as Ben’s boss and friend, and those behind-the-scenes looks were interesting to a book nerd like me.

Overall, it was just a story I really enjoyed . . . for no reason other than it was enjoyable. You know what I mean? It didn’t change my life, but it was memorable and rather touching, actually. If you’re a fan of memoirs, non-fiction or tales of the American Dream, My Korean Deli is a good time. ( )
  writemeg | Jan 14, 2014 |
First Published on We Should Make T-Shirts

This book has been on my TBR for what seems like forever. I can't even remember how I first heard about it.

Ben and his wife move in with her parents in order to save money. While there, they decide to purchase a deli for her parents to run so that they can make a better living.

It was an interesting enough memoir, although very depressing. The process of buying and running the deli seemed so stressful, that reading about it made me really anxious. Everyone suffers from declining health due to all the hours they work, Ben's mother-in-law most of all. This is not a book I would suggest reading if you are thinking of starting your own business, unless you need some advice on what NOT to do, or you're looking for a reason to avoid the whole business thing in the first place. ( )
  brittanygates | Aug 6, 2013 |
Ben Howe is a thoroughly engaging author and the reader did brilliant voices for a variety of accents. This gives you a real sense of being in New York and a hilarious take on culture clashing. I would recommend this to almost anyone! ( )
  espref | Apr 16, 2013 |
Perhaps many people will laugh at the aspects of Korean culture which Howe highlights in his memoir, but what I found most fascinating about this book is his portrait of the late George Plimpton and the literary magazine he made his own. Howe's reflections on immigrant culture, WASP culture and their differences and similarities also struck me as heartfelt and perceptive. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
It’s hard not to fall in love with “My Korean Deli.” First, it’s the (very) rare memoir that places careful, loving attention squarely on other people rather than the author. Second, 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. ...Howe keeps a distanced view and writes with a light, self-effacing touch, describing his frustration with customers who refuse to accept any changes in the coffee, the prices or where the bran muffins and Bud Light are shelved, or his feeling of being trapped in the “scruffy milieu of lottery tickets, wine coolers and penny candy.” But he doesn’t express anger or disdain: he remains carefully even-­tempered, befitting his upbringing as the child of a cultural anthropologist...That fresh embrace of discovery keeps “My Korean Deli” moving as fast as it does

 
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" Most guys from the projects has the Wizard of Oz disease; they can't go nowhere unless they got three people with them. They're like ' I'm the Tin Man and I don't have any heart. Will you come with me to Brooklyn to look for one?Cuz I'm afraid to leave Brooklyn alone.'"
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For Dwayne Wright 1968-2009
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Last summer my wife's family decided to buy a deli.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805093435, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2011: In this laugh-out-loud funny memoir, Ben Ryder Howe, a burned out editor at the Paris Review, spends his days concealing his apathy from his eccentric boss (George Plimpton!), avoiding the short story slush pile, and anticipating the day he will move out of his in-laws’ Staten Island basement. When Ben’s wife insists they buy a deli for her mother, he is skeptical but somehow energized by the risk involved, envisioning himself behind the counter at a profitable little deli providing bohemian customers with gourmet groceries. Instead, he ricochets from the magazine by day to the struggling deli by night, where his regular customers drink beer in the aisles, his mother-in-law, the “Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers,” squares off with Mr. Tortilla Chip, and his pistol-packing employee, Dwayne, conducts X-rated phone calls with his girlfriends while ringing up customers. Howe’s daily interactions with a unique cross-section of humanity and his self-deprecating humor infuse My Korean Deli with insight, hopefulness, and addictive entertainment.--Seira Wilson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A former senior editor of "The Paris Review" recounts his participation in a family effort to buy and run a Korean convenience store for his in-laws, a pursuit that raised issues about work and family while he shuttled between two divergent cultural arenas.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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