My Korean Deli Risking It All for a Convenience Store

Ben Ryder Howe




Trade Paperback

320 Pages


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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 rarefied Paris Review, agrees to go along. Things soon become a lot more complicated. After the business struggles, Howe finds himself living in the basement of his in-laws' Staten Island home, commuting to the Paris Review offices in George Plimpton's Upper East Side townhouse by day, and heading to Brooklyn at night to slice cold cuts and peddle lottery tickets. My Korean Deli follows the store's tumultuous life span, and along the way paints the portrait of an extremely unlikely partnership between characters with shoots across society, from the Brooklyn streets to Seoul to Puritan New England. Owning the deli becomes a transformative experience for everyone involved as they struggle to salvage the original gift—and the family—while sorting out issues of values, work, and identity.


Praise for My Korean Deli

"My Korean Deli serves a love story for our times."—USA Today

"It's hard not to fall in love with My Korean Deli . . . [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."—The New York Times Book Review

"As he leapfrogs from Staten Island to Brooklyn to the Review . . . Howe gains new understanding of life on both sides of the register--the deli is revealed to be a fickle friend, perpetually seesawing between financial promise and ruin, but also magical, a place touched with an unlikely intimacy that holds together the seams of a neighborhood."—The New Yorker

"Howe's portrait of the septaugenarian [George] Plimpton is priceless . . . Howe's combining of the Upper East Side's old world with immigrant survival skills conveys what is absolutely the best of New York. Delightful."—Los Angeles Times

"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."—Publishers Weekly

“Poking fun at everything from his stereotypically WASP upbringing to his 'tank' (he said it) of a mother-in law . . . Howe has created a smartly measured and propulsive read.”—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Steam Table

Fall 2002

Last summer my wife's family and I decided to buy a deli. By fall, with loans from three different relatives, two new credit cards, and a sad kiss good-bye to thirty thousand dollars my wife and I had saved while living in my mother-in-law's Staten Island basement, we had rounded up the money. Now it is November, and we are searching New York City for a place to buy.

We have different ideas about what our store should look like. My mother-in-law, Kay, the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers, wants a deli with a steam table, one of those stainless steel,

Read the full excerpt


  • Ben Ryder Howe

  • 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 live on Staten Island. This is his first book.

  • Ben Ryder Howe