My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store

My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store


By (author) Ben Ryder Howe


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  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada
  • Format: Hardback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 150mm x 211mm x 30mm | 431g
  • Publication date: 1 March 2011
  • ISBN 10: 0385664125
  • ISBN 13: 9780385664127

Product description

It all starts when Ben Ryder Howe’s wife, whose parents emigrated from Korea, decides to repay her debt to them by buying them a deli to run. Howe, an editor at The Paris Review, reluctantly agrees to help in the venture. By day, Howe commutes to The Paris Review offices in George Plimpton’s apartment overlooking the East River, and at night heads to Brooklyn to slice cold cuts, peddle lottery tickets and Colt 45, and sell coffee in 8-ounce blue and gold cups bearing the logo “We are happy to serve you!” The book follows the store’s lifespan, starting a few months before the purchase and ending with the family’s agonized decision to get out. Along the way, Howe allows digressions into the past, painting a cacophonous group portrait of two families — from the Brooklyn ghetto to Seoul to Brahmin New England. The deli is where these cultures meet as Howe juxtaposes the two groups, outsiders versus insiders, new talent versus old money, the deli with The Paris Review. Owning the deli becomes a transformative experience for everyone involved as they struggle to keep the deli — and themselves — from bankruptcy while sorting out issues of class, intermarriage values, work and personal identity.

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Author information

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 recently moved out of the basement of her family's house on Staten Island. This is his first book.

Review quote

“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 like you know the author and his family quite well—even though you may not be eager to move in with them. . . . [Howe’s] always extremely sharp—and unexpectedly funny . . . although [he] would never say so himself, his new life fully achieves the sort of risky adventure George Plimpton only dabbled at.” —Corby Kummer, The New York Times   “Howe, though a fairly lousy shopkeeper, makes for an excellent narrator: His book is an engaging and funny tour of the down-and-dirty world of New York City small business . . . My Korean Deli is likely to be the best look we’ll ever get at the inner workings of the most important literary magazine in the world during its awkward transition from an icon’s pet project to a smaller, more serious concern. . . . [A] plucky, thoughtful memoir.” —Dan Kois, National Public Radio   “[A] funny and insightful journey . . .” —Metro (New York)   “[Ben Howe and wife Gab’s] exhausting, frustrating search for the perfect market is the basis for an amusing take on familial relations and class distinctions.” —The Washington Post   “[Howe’s] retail narrative is surprisingly philosophical—in a good way. Never stilted, Howe’s introspections use simple language to thoughtfully touch upon a spectrum of complex issues, such as personal identity, family relationships, and culture clashes . . . [with] abundant humor and humility.” —CS Monitor   “Howe . . . delivers a smartly written narrative about love, literature, and the lengths one goes to for family, which turns out to be especially far.” —Maclean’s   “My Korean Deli is one of those walk-a-mile-in-another-man’s shoes experiments . . . in which a privileged protagonist lives as a disenfranchised person for a period of time, then chronicles it. These books are always slightly problematic and we forgive them only if real insight is provided. In Howe’s case, it’s doubly forgivable, since it’s no gimmick but, rather, an organic foray into the life.” —Toronto Star