This is part 3 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 the earlier cards, please go here: http://www.vingle.net/collections/1132145
When the restaurant business began to slow, Jeoung focused on the details.
“Do you think that we should change napkin color for winter? Yellow too fall. How about burgundy?” she asks the cook, the dishwasher, and the waitress. Bryan doesn’t think it’s important; but she doesn’t ask Bryan.
She tries folding the napkins in a different way, adds two more leafy plants to the restaurant’s clean entrance and begins to play more popular Korean songs instead of her preferred set of diner-friendly ballads. She was sure that patrons would not like the upbeat pops of Korean pop music, but now she’s not so sure.
The waitress station is constantly relocated—is it easier to keep the forks in the back of the house or at the bar? Which way will make it faster for the waitress to deliver a fork when those customers who need more than the provided stainless steel chopsticks and spoon set? The constant changing causes more mix-ups than results, but Jeoung keeps moving.
When the restaurant business began to slow, Bryan started adjusting the menu and teaching cooking classes.
"We’ll have customers come on Sundays, okay. You’re okay to work on some Sundays? Ok good. We’ll have them come once a month on Sundays and teach them how to make something easy—show them more about how healthy, natural Korean food is, okay?” Bryan explains the plan to a waitress. The first cooking class features Korean-style dumpling soup; fifteen American customers try their pudgy fingers at shaping the perfect dumpling before adding them, plus some seasonings, to boiling water to create a delectable dish.
But the cooking classes last only five months—there is not enough interest, and the profit margin is not large enough to make it worthwhile. Bryan begins to work on a seasonal menu instead, featuring Korean summer favorites like spicy Yangnyam chicken wings and ice-cold buckwheat noddle soup, Naengmeon.
He tries to create new appetizers, too, and lowers the prices on the lunch menu to bring the regulars in more often. Bryan keeps adjusting.
After Bryan buys and starts repairs the first Dasonii house, he begins to look for a family who deserves it. His little brother, introduced through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program, tells Bryan that his mama used to live in a homeless shelter near his current home in Homestead. So, after dropping the boy off with his wife and kids one evening for dinner and movies, Bryan drives to the shelter and asks to volunteer.
His time there brings him to meet a woman with three kids, all of whom spend their time rotating between the shelter, their grandmother’s house and her sister’s house. They have nowhere permanent to go, no bed to call their own.
He reminds her again and again that she just has to pay the utility bills; that she doesn’t need to worry about any mortgage. He reminds her that’s all she has to do and asks that she try to stay strong for her kids. When he finishes the home, he hands her the keys and goes back to work. For a Dasonii house, there are no strings attached.
Jeoung comes to love her American customers. She remembers everyone and knows the newbies by sight. She eagerly greats the regular customers with a booming “long time no see” as they cross the threshold in Dasonii. When Jeoung takes their orders, she never writes it down.
When a customer returns a meal, she sighs, tells Jennifer to eat it for lunch and complains. “Some Korean customer complain too much. Too salty, too this, too that. Too much complain. You understand?”
Jeoung sends Jennifer to tend to the large parties of Korean businessmen; she doesn’t like the way they call her ahjumma, a term denoting her as an auntie, an older woman, and a restaurant employee.
And when a table of Americans is not sure what to order, Jeoung pulls Jennifer away from her own tables to explain the menu more thoroughly.
“They’re Korean; they can wait” Jeoung reasons about Jen’s own table. “Can you go ask my table what appetizer they want? I forgot.”