This is part 2 of a piece I wrote last year called "Dasonii: The people who love" documenting a restaurant I spent a lot of time at in Pittsburgh. Please comment with any questions, or any critiques! Thanks for reading.
To read part 1, go here: http://www.vingle.net/posts/388517
Bryan and Jeoung used to go to the Korean Central Church in Shadyside every Sunday. Their kids, too, attended church functions, and they often cooked for the annual Korean food festival, but this was before Dasonii opened. Now, they attend less often, or attend a Catholic church closer to home. That change was not a result of the restaurant, but the cause of the restaurant’s creation.
“I used to do a lot of helping work at that church,” Bryan tells one of his new chefs. “We would try to get together and help, with Habitat for Humanity. Fix houses, help with repairs, little things. At church, I would put up a list, and we all went together.”
Part of the training process at Dasonii is to learn why Bryan opened the restaurant, and understanding why Bryan stopped going to church is part of that reason.
Though Bryan was happy to assist with the church volunteer projects, he didn’t like the end results of the work, and Habitat for Humanity was not Bryan’s ideal partner in creating new homes for those who cannot afford to do so themselves.
One summer, Bryan made plans with the church to do a group donation and volunteer project through Habitat for Humanity; he made the calls and set the date according to when the other twenty volunteers said they would be available. On building day, only seven people showed.
Still, Bryan put on a smile and tried. They went to Homestead and met with the Habitat for Humanity coordinators, who, too, smiled, and put the volunteers with little experience to work hammering nails and painting walls. Bryan, experienced at building and repair work thanks to a childhood in rural Korea, helped elsewhere with plumbing, lighting and more complicated tasks.
"One time I stayed late to help longer. They tore it all down. Everything the people, those from my church had tried to do during the day. The work just was not good, so torn it all down. Such a waste; instead of teaching them, they just tore it down and did again at night.” Bryan continues to complain; despite the good that Habitat for Humanity claims to teach, like new skills and team building, through their group-based volunteer projects, he doesn’t see it.
With little faith in the organization and church to make a difference, Bryan decided to open Dasonii. His luggage transportation business was stable, and the allure of chef-dom had always caught his eye since he worked as a Japanese-style sushi chef during his early college years in America. Bryan decided to open the business to help whoever he could.
Jeoung didn’t want the restaurant—she didn’t want to work in such a public place, where her English which had improved little during her ten years in America would be tested daily. While raising her kids in the Pittsburgh suburbs, she had little reason to become fluent in English. Bryan had to run a business, make important calls and discuss plans with people, but Jeoung remained at home, with only herself and two young children to speak to. Jeoung didn’t want to open a restaurant where she would have to speak English, but, plying to Bryan’s determination, she agreed.
With the profits, Bryan decided that he would purchase low-cost homes from banking closeouts, common in Pittsburgh neighborhoods like Homestead, remodel them with the help of friends, and give them to nice people currently without homes. He knew how much of a difference a gift like this, one he could provide, would make. Bryan was determined.
He was able to purchase and give away two homes within a year and a half of the restaurant’s opening. The profits from Dasonii bought houses which become homes for families in need.
Everything went well, until it didn’t.
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