Saturday, August 6, 2011

My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe

This is a memoir by Ben Ryder Howe that follows his life as he works as an editor at The Paris Review while also buying and operating a deli with his wife and her mother. Howe and his wife, Gab, buy the deli as a last, Hail Mary, attempt to make enough money to move out of her parents' basement and into their own place. Howe hopes that the deli will make them enough money that they can either buy or rent their own space and begin their own family. Gab puts additional value on the deli - it's her way of giving something back to her mother, a Korean emigre who raised Gab and her siblings seemingly on her own in a foreign country.

The memoir follows the intense ups and downs and the trials and tribulations of owning a deli in New York City. The trials include a mugging, busts for selling cigarettes to underage customers, fines and massive tax bills in addition to being taken advantage of by vendors and the weather alike. During the same period, Howe works at his day job - as a senior editor on The Paris Review during the last few years that George Plimpton ran it. Howe struggles at that job too, sometimes failing massively in a professional sense and also dealing with tragedy that would lead to most of the staff leaving for other jobs.

Howe may not be a successful businessman or a successful editor at an amateur magazine but he is an engaging and evocative storyteller.  This was a funny, down to earth and tremendously readable account of owning a small business in one of the biggest cities of the world. I often enjoyed learning about the day to day minutiae that he had to endure in order to work and own these jobs and his tangents often got a chuckle out of me.  Howe was able to talk about the places and people he dealt with in such color that you almost felt like you were there with them while all the action was occurring.

Go out and get this one right away.

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