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My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store Hardcover – March 1, 2011
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Former senior editor of the Paris Review, Howe recounts his stint as owner and beleaguered worker of a Brooklyn deli in this touching memoir. Howe and his wife, Gab, the daughter of Korean immigrants, decide to buy a deli for her parents as a gesture of goodwill for the sacrifices they have made. His mother-in-law, Kay, whom he describes as the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers, is gung-ho from the start, and when a store is finally purchased in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn, she immediately takes charge. The work (including manipulating the devilish lottery machine) is more trying than Howe anticipated, not to mention dealing with the eccentric neighborhood characters who complain bitterly about any changes, from coffee prices to shelf rearrangements. Mostly working the night shift, Howe also maintains his position at the magazine. Both establishments are sinking ships: the deli hemorrhages money as bills pile up and revenue falters; the Review grows more disorganized, and subscribership plummets. Howe ably transforms what could have been a string of amusing vignettes about deli ownership into a humorous but heartfelt look into the complexities of family dynamics and the search for identity. (Mar.)
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I am a firm believer that anyone who has never run a small business should at least read about the trials and tribulations of one, so here's your chance! In My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store, magazine editor Ben Ryder Howe delves into the world of delicatessen owner, along with with his Korean wife and mother-in-law. At times the deli is the charming neighborhood community center, but more often than not it's just a hodge-podge of strange characters with even stranger happenings. And, as most small business owners discover, Howe learns that the excitement he's granted with this opportunity, isn't necessarily the good kind. Massive debts, long hours, bureaucracy and hooligans, not to mention that fact that it really doesn't make any money at all, lie along the road to self-discovery for both Ben Ryder Howe and his wife.
Howe is honest and funny, and I found My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store to be an enjoyable and eye-opening look at the life of a Brooklyn deli owner.
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.
His mother-in-law, Kay, is by far the most interesting character from her brief appearances, unfortunately she doesn't show up often enough. By the time the author was warned by his wife that the deli was in deep financial doo-doo and he went ahead and ordered thousands of dollars worth of hot sauce anyway, he'd lost me. He doesn't even delineate what happened after that. Did no one notice it?