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My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store

3.4  ·  Rating Details ·  3,364 Ratings  ·  553 Reviews

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

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published April 1st 2010)
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Jul 15, 2012 Matthew rated it did not like it
Shelves: korea, non-fiction, 2012
My Korean Deli is a self-absorbed, egotistical piece of literary sh*t. This carelessly thrown together selective memoir is not at all deserving of the attention it garnered over a year ago. Howe's condescending narrative almost makes you want the business to fail (view spoiler). The author comes across as a whiny, over-privileged, uninspired yuppie "slaving" away at a cushy magazine editing job while moonlighting as an incompetent convenienc ...more
Oct 15, 2011 RandomAnthony rated it liked it
Ben Ryder Howe's My Korean Deli is about as New York-centric, East coast focused as a book can be. I live in Wisconsin. Even though I grew up in Chicago, this whole “shopping at local delis that sound like convenience stores” culture feels alien. Why don't people in New York City shop at supermarkets? Do supermarkets not exist in New York City? I'm sure someone will correct my ignorance. Are these Korean delis like, I don't know, 7-11 or whatever? They kind of sound like 7-11 or a fancy gas stat ...more
If this book had been fiction, it would have been way, way over the top. I mean, what the heck were these people thinking, abandoning prestigious white collar jobs to buy a convenience store in a semi-sketchy neighborhood in downtown Brooklyn with absolutely no experience? Having finished the book I'm still not sure, despite some vague explanation about a weird expression of gratitude from Ben's wife to her Korean parents.

So you've got this bizarre and highly unlikely situation, starring the au
Apr 07, 2011 Terryn rated it really liked it
I was downright shocked by how much I enjoyed reading “My Korean Deli.” I read the book in a day, it was so good. It’s a memoir written about how Ben (Waspy Bostonian white boy), his wife Gab (first generation Korean), and his mother-in-law (Korean immigrant) decide to open a Korean deli in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. Ben works nights at the deli, and days at the Paris Review, a hoity toity literary magazine. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, but Howe does an ...more
I've only made it to page 30, I don't think that I will finish. Full disclosure - I am half-Korean and my mother used to own a carry-out with a steam table; just puttin' it all out there. Given that - i agree that an American, his Korean wife, and MIL opening a deli in NY to assuage some guilt she has about her Mother's sacrifices, could be a hilarious or at least, interesting story.

Just a few chapters in and I'm kinda offended. Even the stereotypical deli-owning Korean family, I was going along
Apr 18, 2011 Susie rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I bought this book initially because I thought the premise was hilarious. A white guy working at a Korean deli? Hahaha. To be honest I wasn't expecting much, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. Without giving away too much, Ben Ryder Howe is a self-described WASP who marries a Korean woman, Gab. For whatever reason, they buy a deli for Gab's parents, Kay and Edward, which means that the whole family more or less signs their lives over to the deli. Howe meanwhile works as an editor at the Pa ...more
Paula Gallagher
Mar 07, 2011 Paula Gallagher rated it liked it
A light, popcorn read. Howe breezily walks us through the trials of an enterprise foisted on him by his Korean wife Gab and her mother Kay. Never fully invested (psychically, physically) in the scheme to open a Korean deli in New York City and reap the profits, Howe is able to keep some cool remove in his storytelling. He's an editor working for George Plimpton at The Paris Review who is mystified by the workings of the cash register, his clientele's fondness for really bad 65-cent coffee, and t ...more
Apr 21, 2011 Diane rated it really liked it
As someone who married a man who owned two fast food restaurants, I really related to Ben Howe's story. He perfectly captures the craziness, the back-breaking work, insanely long hours, the horrible bureaucratic obstacles and yes, the occasional rewards of owning your own small business in America.

Howe tries to balance his work as an editor at the Paris Review, and the contrast between that world of the Upper East Side in NYC and the Brooklyn neighborhood where the Korean deli is located perfect
Jun 09, 2011 R. rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
2.5 stars. On the one hand, Ben Ryder Howe writes competently. His prose isn't purple, and doesn't get in the way of the story -- but overall, it's not memorable. Which is to say, it's amusing, but ultimately bland.

Howe's memoir is about taking the plunge into small business ownership with his Korean-American wife, who wants to purchase a deli to give to her mother. The plan is to get it up and running before turning it over to Howe's mother-in-law, who is stereotypically concerned with hard wor
Ben Ryder Howe brings the reader along on his adventure of purchasing a deli in Brooklyn in order to allow his spunky mother-in-law to run the store. This memoir brings to light Korean traditions and anecdotes from living in the middle of a Korean extended family.

My only knock on this book is that at times Howe tries too hard to be funny. Otherwise, a fun memoir revealing Korean-American culture in NYC.
Nancy Kennedy
Feb 03, 2012 Nancy Kennedy rated it it was amazing
You know how when you walk the streets of New York, you keep your eyes straight ahead? You don't look left or right, and you certainly don't slow down to peer into some little shop in a skeevy neighborhood, let alone go in.

Well, you don't have to go in. Ben Ryder Howe has gone into the store for you. In fact, he and his wife, Gab, bought the store. His wife quit her job as a corporate attorney to buy a deli in Brooklyn for her Korean mother, Kay ("the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers"), in a tr
May 09, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it
I found this to be a real page-turner of a memoir about a guy who opens a Korean deli in Brooklyn, together with his Korean-American wife and Korean mother-in-law. He goes into a lot of explanation about Korean-American culture, and the culture of many other immigrants in NYC and how they make their living in various ways, often with really creative ways of gaming the system.

I got to live vicariously through someone brave enough to open a small business, since I am way too chicken to ever do it
Kressel Housman
Jan 02, 2017 Kressel Housman rated it really liked it
A few of my Goodreads friends reviewed this book years ago, possibly when it first came out, and I was intrigued enough to add it to my to-read list, but I didn’t consider it a particular priority. I only remembered it recently, and that was because of the book Pioneer Girl, which is also about a small business owned by a family of Asian American immigrants, though it was a restaurant, and the family was Vietnamese. It was also fictional, not a memoir, but the most important difference is that t ...more
Gail Goetschius
My Korean Deli is the memoir of a WASP editor and his Korean wife who buy a deli in order to make enough money to gain independence from his wife's parents and then give the deli to his wife's mother. Living with his in laws and their extended family and owning and running a deli are about as far from Howe's comfort zone as he can get, yet his acceptance of the situations, his hard work, and his obvious love for his wife make him very likable narrator. I think I preferred the chapters about Howe ...more
Jul 08, 2011 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2011, memoir
What’s not obvious from the title of this book is that Howe was, at the time in which this book is set, a senior editor at The Paris Review. And thus while the memoir is ostensibly about the author, his Korean wife and mother-in-law buying and running a Brooklyn deli, there’s a subplot about the final years of the Review under its venerable editor, George Plimpton.

Howe manages to weave his life at the Review, the trials of running a small business in New York, and, perhaps most compellingly, the
Apr 14, 2011 Jennifer rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs-humor
I raced to get this book after reading many reviews which promised hilarity and laughter. I was prepared to be regaled with personal stories of a topic i know little about, being married into an immigrant family which sacrifices all to own and operate a New York convenience store. Well, David Sedaris has nothing to worry about.
There were so many opportunities and teasers for crazy stories, anecdotes even of wacky customers and then nothing. Just a few sentences on that, but more and more about
Apr 12, 2014 Theresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an really good book. The author does a nice job making the characters interesting with the dialogue and the narration is very good. (I listened to it on audio).The book held my attention which is difficult to do in nonfiction sometimes. I learned something about deli owners and how hard it is to run your own business. My favorite characters were the mother in law and Dwayne. I highly recommend this book especially the audio version.
May 07, 2014 Anna rated it really liked it
Recommended to Anna by: Theresa
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend and because I live and work in an area with a large Korean population (NOT NY). I thought this might provide me further insights and knowledge of a culture I have only in recent years come to know. It did that in a lighthearted and humorous manner; I loved the way the author wrote! A fun and informative read!
Kate Z
Dec 05, 2011 Kate Z rated it liked it
This is one of those books which really sums up the book club experience for me. I didn't *want* to read this and I wouldn't have but for it being selected by my book club as our December 2011 read. Memoirs aren't really my thing and that's even more true when it comes to reading a memoir for a book club selection. I have a very snooty attitude when it comes to book club selections - I like to talk about THE BOOK and one thing I really appreciate about the book club I'm involved with is how on p ...more
The story opens with Ben's Korean-American wife, Gab setting out to buy a NYC deli (convenience store) for her mother to manage. Eventually, they settle on one in Brooklyn, which results in a wild series of disasters, until the end, when they're pretty much reduced to selling it.

Much later in the book, we're told of Kay's (the mother) difficult life in Korea - long after I'd formed an initial impression of her as a (highly stereotypical) workaholic, money-obsessed Korean matron. I didn't "get"
Mar 11, 2013 Bookworm rated it liked it
A mixed bag from an author's first foray in writing books. The author looks at his time in a Korean deli, purchased for his mother in law. The book takes place over a period of years, looking at the day to day issues of running a store, the more interesting activities that happen and the customers that pass through. Not ever spending much time in NY, this was rather fascinating.

However, the book is rather uneven, talking about the deli as well as the lives of some of the people in it as well as
The narrator for this audiobook, Bronson Pinchot, did a fine job, bringing out the nuances of this memoir, in which a hung-up Boston-bred editor for The Paris Review morphs into a Korean-run deli owner. Actually, Pinchot's droll narration is probably the sole reason I finished listening to this book.

On the whole, I think there is far too much of this "transforming a part of my life into a bestseller" phenomenon in publishing these days, and I can't help but wonder how many authors and would-be
Apr 18, 2012 Joshua rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
My Korean Deli started off with a loud bang as Ben Ryder Howe chronicles how he and his Korean-American wife take all their savings [30K], sign-up for a bunch of credit cards [is this a wise way to help finance a business start-up?] and buy a tiny, revenue challenged deli in Brooklyn with his mother-in-law. Howe happens to have a day job as an editor at the Paris Review literary magazine. By opening the deli, he will now have a night job too as he mans the 4-1am shift four nights a week. As the ...more
Kim Sheehan
Aug 12, 2011 Kim Sheehan rated it really liked it
I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could...I liked much of it, but there was a lot I could skip over.

This is a non-fiction story of how the author, his wife, and her Korean family purchased and ran a Korean deli in Brooklyn for several years. At the same time, the author is struggling with a less-than-inspiring job at the Paris Review and his wife is trying to find an appropriate work/life balance...all while living in the Pak family basement. There's really about four different stories in this book,
Chris Aylott
Mar 31, 2012 Chris Aylott rated it really liked it
Ben Ryder Howe's memoir of helping buy and run a Korean deli reads like it should be a movie (and apparently it was, at least for a while, though the project seems to have gone dormant). A WASPy editor working for George Plimpton, Howe is married to a daughter of Korean immigrants who has decided to help her mother own a deli of her own. While Howe's mother-in-law is a lifelong retail expert, Howe and his wife are not, and they're quickly in over their heads.

Howe's struggles with the deli brings
May 05, 2011 Amanda rated it liked it
If I could have given this another half star, I would have, but I didn't like it enough to round up an entire star. This memoir was occasionally funny, interesting, and quick to get through. My biggest complaint about this book was the author's wife. Maybe it's my tendency to fixate on things that aren't that central to the overall theme of the book, but I couldn't help feeling like she was overbearing and unapologetic with a need for constant validation. This drove me crazy and distracted me fr ...more
Sep 16, 2011 Catherine rated it really liked it
Paris Review editor Ben Howe, descended from the earliest Bostonians, and his wife Gab, an attorney whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Korea, decide to use the money they’ve been saving to buy a house to make her mother’s dream come true. The dream happens to be becoming proprietor of a convenience store/deli in Brooklyn, and Ben and Gab have saved this money by living in her parents’ basement along with a rotating cast of other family members. Ben continues to work half-heartedly for his ...more
Kasa Cotugno
This is a pleasant memoir, more of an extended blog, with situations beyond its original premise. When finished, I was surprised at the harshness of some of the other reviews since I didn't find it any more self-absorbed than any other memoir, and with its elements of cross cultural influence more compelling than most. Howe moves into his in-laws home in Staten Island so that he and his wife can help her first generation Korean family gain independence in a business of their own, a convenience s ...more
Mar 10, 2011 Andie rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. This is an incredibly enjoyable, quirky memoir that has about 10 other characters beyond the author- an unconventional memoir, and as such I really enjoyed it, as I am not a memoir person. Howe chronicles the conception, birth, lifetime, and ultimate death of the deli he decides to open with his Korean wife and mother-in-law in Boerum Hill. Meanwhile, he chronicles about ten other things- Boerum Hill as a changing neighborhood; his relationship with his wife, their desire to move out ...more
Deborah Halber
Jan 24, 2014 Deborah Halber rated it liked it
I enjoyed spending a few days inside Ben Ryder Howe's world--he's living with his wife's extended Korean family in a basement in Staten Island, he's working as a (largely unqualified, he admits) editor at the Paris Review with the legendary George Plimpton as a cantankerous boss, and then decides to become part-owner, counter person, and stock boy for a deli the family decides to buy as a money-making scheme. The description of the day-to-day trials and tribulations of running a decrepit Brookly ...more
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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.
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