Living Portrait Series, Jimmy Lee of El Kimchi and Buxton Hall Barbecue

For the month of September, exclusive for the Asheville Citizen Times, I will be photographing and talking with Asian-American immigrants living in Asheville. Chesky spent nearly two years living as a foreigner in Busan, South Korea before returning to his hometown.

http://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2016/09/27/living-portrait-jimmy-lee-el-kimchi-and-buxton-hall-barbecue/91119284/

Jimmy Lee is the lead line cook at Buxton Hall Barbecue

Nathan Chesky: First of all what is your name? I am guessing it wasn’t always Jimmy.

Jimmy Lee: JinHyuk, that’s my Korean name, well that’s my legal name. Jimmy is a name that I picked, apparently when I was four. I don’t remember it, but I named myself after Jimmy Carter. He was in Korea doing Habitat for Humanity work, and he was on TV, and I had to pick a name for English class. I went up through school ‘til seventh grade in Seoul, where every school teaches English, and that was my name.

Chesky: So, this was just your regular Korean public school, it wasn’t a Hagwon or International school?

Lee: Yeah, I went to public school. Well, I also grew up near Gangnam, in Seoul. Where, you know, everyone is crazy about education and going to Hagwon all the time in addition to school. I went to English school after school. On top of that, my dad was running an international business and he studied English in college. So, I kind of grew up with English all around me. When I moved here, I was conversational. There was a time after I moved here and a plumber came to our house, and he said, “What’s up?” I didn’t know what that meant, but I could talk with him about what was going on, but I didn’t know phrases like that.

Chesky: So, after Seoul, what were the moves that lead you to WNC?
Lee: I was born in Seoul and I lived in Seoul until I was in seventh grade. And then, for a year, my family actually moved out of Seoul and moved to Chungnam. After a year there, we moved here.

Chesky: What was it like moving from Seoul to Chungnam?

Lee: It’s very different. It’s a city, but it’s not a huge city. It is probably the size of maybe Greenville. Maybe not even Greenville, it’s a small city. I moved there because my parents opened up a new restaurant and my dad had cancer. Running a restaurant in Seoul wasn’t good for him.

Chesky: So, is that what eventually brought you here?

Lee: Yeah, mostly because of my dad’s health. Also the restaurant they were running in Chungnam wasn’t doing so well because we had spent all our lives in Seoul and we moved to somewhere completely new and didn’t understand the regional culture. We couldn’t adapt to it. The little nuances in food. The restaurant in Seoul was doing really well. We were doing table side barbecue thing, but in Chungnam people wanted seafood, because it’s a coastal town. We were doing food from Seoul, and a lot of Koreans outside of Seoul will say, “You’re not a local,” or, “You’re not cooking our food.”

Chesky:  So, that’s why you left, but why Western North Carolina?

Lee: My dad has a cousin here (in WNC) who runs a nursing home. They have lived here for 20-30 years, and they run a nursing home mostly for Koreans. The nurses will also cook all their food. So, my mom worked there when we first moved here, and I actually lived in that nursing home for four years throughout high school.

Chesky:  Did you move straight from Korea to a nursing home in America?

Lee: I first moved here, and the first house I lived in was up in Mount Pisgah in the middle of the woods. From Seoul to Mount Pisgah. I specifically remember one night, I couldn’t fall asleep and I didn’t know why until three o’clock in the morning. I realized it was the sound of the bugs. At night, my brain could cancel out cars, planes, people yelling, but bug sounds, my brain couldn’t cancel out yet, so I couldn’t fall asleep. There was no quiet time in Seoul.

Chesky: How long were you out there?

Lee: So, we moved into that house and maybe after two months we moved into the nursing home, which was the start of my ninth grade, and I lived there until I graduated high school. It’s in Fletcher, well Alexander, actually.

Chesky: You went to Asheville High? I doubt they were sending buses out that far.

Lee: No, No, No. I was driving 45 minutes to Asheville High every day. It was a North Buncombe district, but we were already going to church, a Korean church downtown, and a family there told us that their son who was my age was already going to Asheville High. They also lived in the North Buncombe district. So, I guess my family just kind of followed that and put me in Asheville High. Which was a great choice, because I dearly love that school. It’s the most diverse school in Western North Carolina. I guess I felt better there because I wasn’t the only different kid. I also already had a friend.

 

Chesky: What’s next for you as you approach your transition out of high school?

Lee: I got into art history when I was a junior in high school. I took an AP art history class and fell in love with it. Before that, I had never considered any career in the field of art. I wasn’t told to be anything. My parents weren’t really like that. But there was also that expectation from them of, “We got to make a good person out of you,” for the sake of, “We moved here for your education, you have got to do something great.” So, I was always thinking doctor, lawyer, all the cliché jobs. Success defined in the terms of money. At the same time, I was getting really into art. That together put in where I wanted to be an architect. I ended up at App State. They had construction science or building science programs. I really liked it, though I was paying for school out of pocket. I had worked through high school. At the same time, my parents were going through a hard time financially. So, I left school after three semesters, and I sold cars, actually for a year at Paramount Kia. I was thinking it’s a Korean company, and I walked in there pretty cocky thinking I could sell cars with no real sales experience. I was 20 years old, and for some reason they gave me a job. That was at a time where we were deeply into the recession. So, some of my coworkers and friends in the industry selling cars were architects. Architects selling cars. They didn’t have any projects. So, I started second guessing my career choice. My parents had lost their jobs and were trying to think of a business to form. I had always grown up with them running a restaurant. I grew up doing homework in the kitchen. I had never thought I would work in a kitchen as a career, but I always enjoyed cooking. I started cooking for my parents and I realized, “Hey this is fun!”

Chesky: So, how did El Kimchi food truck come about?

Lee: That was when Roy Choi was becoming a big deal with the Korean/Mexican food truck out in LA. We didn’t have a lot of money to start something new, so this idea was really appealing to us. My mom has owned two restaurants before and has so much talent. I wanted to learn and see how to do that for a living. And, for some reason, my parents let me make the menu. I had just turned 21. They didn’t know anything about Mexican food. We could see that it had worked in LA, and we hadn’t seen anything on the East Coast.

We began hearing news stories about food trucks possibly being allowed downtown. It was great timing. So, we got into the community of food trucks, which was smaller at the time, and offered to help in any ways they needed. It all started at 51 Coxe Ave. at “The Lot.”

Chesky: Do you attribute Asheville’s growth, especially the microbrewery industry, to be a help to the rise of food trucks?

Lee: It definitely helps to have all these microbreweries with all the outdoor seating areas. We really only go to one brewery now, The Wedge. We have been there about four years now, and it seems like they are doing more business. I’d love to believe that it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

Chesky: So, what was life like after getting the truck off the ground with your family?

Lee: So, we had started the food truck, and by that time I was committed to cooking for a career. I knew, somewhere in my heart, that my parents just wanted me to have a degree. So, after a year, we worked very hard and had a decent customer base, I went back to school. So, I went back and changed my major to marketing and decided it would be useful when I ever ran my own restaurant. I went back to school, and for the next two years I was in class and then Thursday night I would drive home to work for El Kimchi through Sunday, and then head back to school. I did that until I graduated. One summer I came home and worked on the truck and also worked at Ben’s Tune-Up. I met Elliot Moss through from friends. I walked in, and he knew I was a part of the food truck, so I said, “Hey Elliot, my name is Jimmy.” Elliot responded immediately with, “Yeah I know who you are, when do you want to start?”  It was my very first job working in a kitchen that wasn’t my family’s, so I wasn’t a great cook at the time. That’s when I really started to get a grasp to understand what it is to work in a kitchen.

Chesky: So, after college and coming home to work where did you end up?

Lee: After I graduated college, I came back to Asheville and helped with El Kimchi for about a year. I knew I wanted to do more than the food truck. I wanted to cook somewhere else, learn more from the cooks here, more about the food here. I wasn’t really familiar with using all the food that was local to here, to North Carolina. So, knowing Elliot was going to open a barbecue place, and that he uses a lot of local ingredients, it seemed like the right place for me to go. So, I applied and Elliot gave me the job. I started from the very bottom of the pool of line cooks, and it has been about a year now, and I worked my way up to be lead line cook. I started maybe a week or two before Buxton opened.

Chesky: Did you wish to work in barbecue specifically, being in North Carolina?

Lee: So, trying to learn the food that is of WNC or of North Carolina in general is another reason why Buxton Hall was appealing to me. I mean, what is more Carolina than barbecue, right? I knew he was going to do all wood, whole hog barbecue, and there is something that draws people to it, when you are cooking with wood. Maybe it’s like a primal thing that we all still have inside of us. I mean Koreans cook with charcoal a lot, and every culture has that background. Before gas, we were all using charcoal or wood. That was very appealing to me, as well. Learning barbecue that was very true to Carolina, and the opportunity to learn other aspects of cooking. I’ve really only been cooking for about five years professionally.

Chesky: The famous barbecue in Korea is table side grills where customers can watch their meat being prepared, or even cook it themselves. Buxton has an open kitchen as well, where customers can see what is happening beyond the plating.

Lee: I don’t know exactly what Elliot’s thought behind having an open kitchen was. I mean, many cooks have many reasons behind that. It elevates the cooks. It almost becomes a showcase at certain restaurants. You have to keep it, and yourself, looking pristine and clean. Open kitchen is a great thing. I love being able to see the customers enjoy the food. The ability for customers to stop by the kitchen and thank us on the way out, that’s the best part. It’s the best part.

Living Portrait Series, Asheville Citizen Times: Larry Lee of Lee’s Asian Market

For the month of September, exclusive for the Asheville Citizen Times, I will be photographing and talking with Asian-American immigrants living in Asheville. Chesky spent nearly two years living as a foreigner in Busan, South Korea before returning to his hometown.

http://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2016/09/22/living-portrait-larry-lee-lees-asian-market/90627032/

Larry Lee is the owner of Lee’s Asian Market in South Asheville. Nathan Chesky: How did you find Asheville? Larry Lee: We found Asheville because we came here a long time ago, in 1982. And then we ended up moving here in 2013. The shop has been here for three years. Chesky: What countries do you have food from? Lee: It may be easier to show you. We have this whole section from China. Some of these items are from Thailand. We have stuff from Korea as well. Back here we have stuff from the Philippines. We have Indonesian noodles. Up front here we have Japanese style. All of it. Over on the first row we have Vietnamese. All Vietnamese products. We also have Indian products near the back. Chesky: Do you have a lot of restaurants in town shop here for their kitchens? Lee:  A lot of restaurants in Asheville do come here to buy their supplies. Not just retail. Probably more retail. Chesky: What are the most popular items people come for? Lee: We sell almost everything. I cannot tell you because we sell little bits of everything all the time. Oh! Tea. People are now thinking more about herbal medicine. So you can see all the teas: detox tea, cold and flu, herbal laxative, sugar free, cholesterol tea. People believe in herbal medicine. Some people come just for tea. Chesky: I see you have a whole section of nonfood items. What all do you carry here? Lee: We have some stuff for Buddhist people to pray to — incense from Vietnam and Thailand, some from China. We have some stuff for winter. If electricity is down we have gas, for a stove for cooking indoors. We have kitchen supplies. I sell a lot of knives. Sushi knife, woks, steamers for steam buns, hot pots, sake sets and tea sets. Chesky: Do you import everything here yourself? Lee: We buy through a company in California and New Jersey. I don’t want to buy from Atlanta ... they mark up too much. Chesky: Why did you decide to open here? Lee: We are related a bit to Asiana, the grand buffet right here. We came to visit and talk, and we felt that people here talk about where to purchase the supplies for cooking Asian style. They did have some but not a good one. So I felt that I could (succeed) ... I have been in California and knew companies in New York. That’s why I feel like maybe I could fix everyone’s needs for cooking Asian style. Chesky: Are there things customers want that you maybe can’t bring here to Asheville? Lee: Yes, live fish. I don’t want to do. First, my room is too small. Second, I don’t want people to have to kill them. (Laughs.) Chesky: How long would it take to get something if I ordered something specific? Lee:  If the company in California carries it, one week. Sometimes if the company doesn’t carry it, it can take a little more. Some things we can’t even find here. Sometimes customers can find that stuff online, so I don’t feel the need to order it. Chesky: Is there anything you can’t get here that you would want to order for yourself? Lee: Oh, yeah. The one that I want, that I cannot get, is Chinese bakery. Like Chinese baked bread with filling. Toro, custard and red bean. Chesky: How is business? Lee: Sometimes up, sometimes down. I feel that there may not be enough of an Asian population here. We cannot focus on Vietnamese or just Chinese, because there may only be like 10-20 families of Chinese or Vietnamese here. If I opened a Vietnamese store, we are not surviving. Open a Chinese-only market, we are not surviving. So we must carry a little bit of everything. Here we focus a good bit on Chinese and Thai as well. There is a Thai restaurant right next door, as well as a Vietnamese restaurant. Chesky: Have you noticed any changes in Asheville in the past few years? Lee: Yeah, I feel more people are moving here. And we see a lot of different people. We talk to them and they are on vacation of some kind, or they move in from Florida, Ohio or something like that. Chesky: I talked with Christina, the owner of Korean House, and she mentioned it helped when people had moved here from a bigger city, because they were more accustomed to trying different types of Asian foods. Have you noticed this? Lee: Yes. Most people who come from big cities like Chicago, West Coast, Northern California or Oregon. Chesky: Anything else you would want people to know about coming here? Lee: We have some famous coffee: G7, Nestle Cafe and a lot of Chinese teas.

Larry Lee is the owner of Lee’s Asian Market in South Asheville.

Nathan Chesky: How did you find Asheville?

Larry Lee: We found Asheville because we came here a long time ago, in 1982. And then we ended up moving here in 2013. The shop has been here for three years.

Chesky: What countries do you have food from?

Lee: It may be easier to show you. We have this whole section from China. Some of these items are from Thailand. We have stuff from Korea as well. Back here we have stuff from the Philippines. We have Indonesian noodles. Up front here we have Japanese style. All of it. Over on the first row we have Vietnamese. All Vietnamese products. We also have Indian products near the back.

Chesky: Do you have a lot of restaurants in town shop here for their kitchens?

Lee:  A lot of restaurants in Asheville do come here to buy their supplies. Not just retail. Probably more retail.

Chesky: What are the most popular items people come for?

Lee: We sell almost everything. I cannot tell you because we sell little bits of everything all the time. Oh! Tea. People are now thinking more about herbal medicine. So you can see all the teas: detox tea, cold and flu, herbal laxative, sugar free, cholesterol tea. People believe in herbal medicine. Some people come just for tea.

Chesky: I see you have a whole section of nonfood items. What all do you carry here?

Lee: We have some stuff for Buddhist people to pray to — incense from Vietnam and Thailand, some from China. We have some stuff for winter. If electricity is down we have gas, for a stove for cooking indoors. We have kitchen supplies. I sell a lot of knives. Sushi knife, woks, steamers for steam buns, hot pots, sake sets and tea sets.

Chesky: Do you import everything here yourself?

Lee: We buy through a company in California and New Jersey. I don’t want to buy from Atlanta ... they mark up too much.

Chesky: Why did you decide to open here?

Lee: We are related a bit to Asiana, the grand buffet right here. We came to visit and talk, and we felt that people here talk about where to purchase the supplies for cooking Asian style. They did have some but not a good one. So I felt that I could (succeed) ... I have been in California and knew companies in New York. That’s why I feel like maybe I could fix everyone’s needs for cooking Asian style.

Chesky: Are there things customers want that you maybe can’t bring here to Asheville?

Lee: Yes, live fish. I don’t want to do. First, my room is too small. Second, I don’t want people to have to kill them. (Laughs.)

Chesky: How long would it take to get something if I ordered something specific?

Lee:  If the company in California carries it, one week. Sometimes if the company doesn’t carry it, it can take a little more. Some things we can’t even find here. Sometimes customers can find that stuff online, so I don’t feel the need to order it.

Chesky: Is there anything you can’t get here that you would want to order for yourself?

Lee: Oh, yeah. The one that I want, that I cannot get, is Chinese bakery. Like Chinese baked bread with filling. Toro, custard and red bean.

Chesky: How is business?

Lee: Sometimes up, sometimes down. I feel that there may not be enough of an Asian population here. We cannot focus on Vietnamese or just Chinese, because there may only be like 10-20 families of Chinese or Vietnamese here. If I opened a Vietnamese store, we are not surviving. Open a Chinese-only market, we are not surviving. So we must carry a little bit of everything. Here we focus a good bit on Chinese and Thai as well. There is a Thai restaurant right next door, as well as a Vietnamese restaurant.

Chesky: Have you noticed any changes in Asheville in the past few years?

Lee: Yeah, I feel more people are moving here. And we see a lot of different people. We talk to them and they are on vacation of some kind, or they move in from Florida, Ohio or something like that.

Chesky: I talked with Christina, the owner of Korean House, and she mentioned it helped when people had moved here from a bigger city, because they were more accustomed to trying different types of Asian foods. Have you noticed this?

Lee: Yes. Most people who come from big cities like Chicago, West Coast, Northern California or Oregon.

Chesky: Anything else you would want people to know about coming here?

Lee: We have some famous coffee: G7, Nestle Cafe and a lot of Chinese teas.

Living Portrait Series: Shobhana Patel, co-owner of Mount Vue Motel

For the month of September, exclusive for the Asheville Citizen Times, I will be photographing and talking with Asian-American immigrants living in Asheville. Chesky spent nearly two years living as a foreigner in Busan, South Korea before returning to his hometown

http://blogs2.citizen-times.com/photography/2016/09/15/living-portrait-series-shobhana-patel-co-owner-of-mount-vue-motel/

Shobhana Patel is the co-owner of Mount Vue Motel with her husband Kirit.

Nathan: How long has the hotel been here in Asheville?

Shobhana Patel: I have been here for 32 years. The motel has been here since 1953 or 1956. We bought it in October, 1984. I made changes inside – a lot, everything. Well we mostly changed the furniture, carpet, beds.

Nathan: Have you worked in motels before then?

Patel: No, I was working when my daughter was small, and she was getting sick so I had to take her to the doctors in New Jersey. So our babysitter told us we should buy a hotel so we did. She had a motel in New Jersey. We had other friends who lived here. My husband came here to see it. We had lived in New Jersey for 5 years and then moved here because we found this motel.

Nathan: Had you heard of Asheville before then?

Patel: Nothing. Nothing! It was a small town at that time. It was really small. They had a video game store next door, a gas station up there, and Godfather Pizza was here. Even the mall had a mountain in between us. They tore it down and put up a Krispy Kreme, then tore it down to put more roads. A lot of change. They have built a lot of stuff.

Nathan: So, you are here on Tunnel Road right before the tunnel. What was it like walking downtown when you first moved here?

Patel: Yeah, I used to go down there. It wasn’t that big over there, maybe a couple of shops at that time. And now it has gotten too big down there. I don’t hardly go. I don’t like to drive anymore because it’s hard to find parking. The last time I went was for Bele Chere. So after that I didn’t even go.

Nathan: When you first started, in the ’80s, were there a lot of people staying here? Why would they visit Asheville?

Patel: Yes, a lot of people came. It must have been because of the scenery. October and even the summer was the most busy time. In that time the whole town would sell out in one or two hours. Our rooms would sell out. It was great! It may be less busy now but the prices have gone up so much. They have built up lots of big hotels, and most people go to those, the chains. Sometimes it can be slow on the weekdays but very busy on the weekends.

Nathan: Do you advertise online?

Patel: We only have walking-in and phone reservations. I don’t have many rooms. We have just 9 rooms and my husband and I are basically retired people. We get just a little bit of work and just do what we can do. We also just live here in these two rooms. Just me and him. My daughter and my son live in Durham. Everything is walking distance, so I like it here. I told my husband if something happens and we have to move, but hopefully, otherwise we will just stay here.

Nathan: So, you have been in Asheville for 32 years now. New Jersey before that. How did you find your way into New Jersey? To America?

Patel: We moved to New Jersey from India. My husband’s family was here, in New Jersey, at that time. He told us it was a better place to live and we should come. At first I didn’t like it. I was crying for the first 6 months because I had a big family and I missed them. At that time I couldn’t speak English. I could understand it, but I couldn’t give an answer. Kirit would go to work from 7 to 7 so I was by myself all day. At that time I didn’t even hardly know how to use the TV!

Nathan: How long did it take you to get comfortable?

Patel: About a year. I started working and learning English. The women I was working with would teach me and I started to understand.

Nathan: What kind of work were you doing?

Patel: I was sewing. I learned how to do it in India. My husband would drop me off, and sometimes I had to walk home. But it wasn’t too bad because at that time I was young!

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Nathan: How did you and Kirit meet?

Patel: I didn’t. It was arranged. I have a big family; about 60 people and we lived together. We have many houses with all of my cousins, brothers, sisters. We all lived on one property. We would eat in one place, one kitchen. Usually I stayed with my aunt and my uncle. My dad, my mom, my two uncles, and my two aunts lived in Bombay. So my younger uncle, with my grandmother, took care of all of us kids. (laughs) We had so much to do.

So my uncle met his (Kirit’s) father and they arranged it. It took only three months. I was excited but I didn’t know! I was very shy at that time, so I only talked to him for five minutes. If someone changed him I would even know! But last May was 46 years! And I told my kids, “If I can talk to him for just 5 minutes and we last this long, you guys are always talking all the time, you better last very long!” (laughs)

Nathan: Could you tell me a little more about your life in India?  What part of India did you live in?

Patel: It was a small town called Pij. It was nearby a bigger city: Inadiad. It’s on the south side. We had to go to the city for everything. School was in Pij, but groceries and clothes, anything bigger, you would need to go into Inadiad.

I visited last year. It has changed. It has gotten better. Cleaner.

Nathan: Is there a good Indian community in Asheville?

Patel: Yes, we have ICAWNC, Indian Culture Association of Western North Carolina. We have about 125 families here in Asheville. They email about events and holidays. We will get together and have prayers to the gods and sing songs. After we finish the prayers have dinner together.

You know how you have Thanksgiving and then you have Christmas right? We have Duali and right after that is our New Year’s, Oct. 1st.

Nathan: What does your group here do for Duali?

Patel: On Duali we call a DJ and get together to get dressed up in Indian dress and jewelry.  We put all the gods’ and goddesses’ pictures in the middle and we go in a circle around it. With our hands first: hand dance. We sing it together and then we have a stick dance. You have to go around and around and around.

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Living Portrait Series, Asheville Citizen Times: Christina Im, owner of Korean House

For the month of September, exclusive for the Asheville Citizen Times, I will be photographing and talking with Asian-American immigrants living in Asheville. Chesky spent nearly two years living as a foreigner in Busan, South Korea before returning to his hometown.

http://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2016/09/08/living-portrait-christina-im-owner-korean-house/89783390/

Christina Im is the owner and head chef of Korean House. She is from South Korea.

Nathan: Where did you grow up?

Christina Im: In Korea, near Seoul. It was kind of countryside before, and now it’s all bright. Everything is 24-hour stores, and everything just keeps changing a lot. Each year I go there, and new buildings have all gone up. They keep going up.

Nathan: Can you tell me a bit about your move to America?

Christina: I came here in 1995, so I have been here for 21 years. I first moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. My aunts, both of them, were there so they invited us to move to Cincinnati. Then Ohio to Kentucky, Kentucky to New York, New York to Asheville. So I lived in Brooklyn, and I am married to a Chinese man and there is a huge Chinese community there. They all thought I was Chinese, and as soon as I spoke English they didn’t like me and would say “You are Chinese, why would you speak English?” (Laughs)

Nathan: What took you to Brooklyn?

Christina: My husband’s family is in New York City. Since he was stuck with my family first, for five or six years in Cincinnati, we tried it there for about the same amount of time. I lived with a bunch of Chinese people and I didn’t understand what was going on. I respect their culture, but they looked at me as an outsider a bit and in Brooklyn they all lived in one area together.

Nathan: So you were living in America but having almost a harder time fitting into the Chinese culture there. Was that more difficult than just finding your place in America in general?

Christina: I didn’t see almost any America there. It felt almost like another China, really. Here, if you want to sell food outside, you would have to get safety permits, but there you could serve whatever you wanted in the street. That’s China. People smoking everywhere. I didn’t understand that part.

Nathan: So, New York to Asheville?  How did you find Asheville?

Christina: Yes. So, I have been working in restaurants for a long time. I’ve been serving. I’ve been managing. You know, anything. I worked mostly at Japanese restaurants. But my last job before New York was in a Korean restaurant. I was a manager there so I got to see everything they do, but I love to cook! I love to cook for many people. I am always cooking at my house for everyone and share. So my friend from there, she was Chinese, asked me to move to Asheville and open a restaurant with her. She knew my dream was to open my own restaurant and feed all the people as family. So I was like, OK! I’ll come check it out, and we opened it up.

The first place we opened, I really didn’t have much experience. I mean, I can cook the home style, but not the fast-paced restaurant style. So I hired a very expensive chef. But it didn’t work out.

To me cooking is experience plus common sense. So me, now I have both. My food, I could not teach anybody how I do it. I don’t measure like 2 ounces of this, 1 ounce for that, because it all just comes out from my hand and I put it in.

So, I opened the first Korean restaurant in Asheville and it was a big hit. It was good business. So after two years I decided to open my own restaurant on my own as well. I sold the other one, Stone Bowl, to my partner and now I have this one. I own Korean House downtown and she has the two in South Asheville.

Nathan: Where did you learn to cook this way?

Christina: I think from my grandma. Yes, because I lived with my grandma until I was 14. She’s from out in the country in Cheongju. A place where Bibimbap is very popular. So she cooked like I do now — she just touches it and everything tasted good! My mom is from Mokpo. So you know, a totally different side of Korea. My grandma used to always give her a hard time on how she even made rice! For me, everyday a new thing comes up, so I am still learning as I go.

Nathan: How do you like where Asheville has come, and your place in it?

Christina: Asheville has a lot of people moving here. Which is a good thing because they usually have tried Korean food in bigger cities and then they come here and always have good things to say! Saying it’s the best they’ve had. I’m so picky.

So, this is my fifth year in Asheville. It has nice weather and really nice people. People who come here know, this is my concept. We are the only place right now that you can do Korean barbecue at the table. If you walk in this door, we are here to make you feel as comfortable as if you were family. We like to remember people’s names. In Korea, customer is king. I think most of our customers are repeat customers and regulars. I just want to make them happy when they walk out the door.

Nathan: What does the future hold for you and Korean House?

Christina: Right now I am focused on this one. We have at least two more years in this building. I may open one in West Asheville or Black Mountain. With maybe a simpler menu. I have a good crew, who want to go further with me, so that is what I am planning. I got a lot of good experience from this restaurant. So maybe by then I will know how to make money! (laughs)

Living Portrait Series, Asheville Citizen Times: Jinwoo Jeong, of Busan, South Korea

For the month of September, exclusive for the Asheville Citizen Times, I will be photographing and talking with Asian-American immigrants living in Asheville. Chesky spent nearly two years living as a foreigner in Busan, South Korea before returning to his hometown.

 

http://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2016/09/01/living-portrait-jinwoo-jeong-busan-south-korea/89533654/

Jinwoo Jeong is a handyman from Busan, South Korea.

Nathan Chesky: So, as you know, I lived in Busan, South Korea, for about two years.  Can you tell me about your journey from your hometown of Busan to here in Asheville, my hometown?

Jinwoo Jeong: Yes, so I was born and raised in Busan, South Korea. I had lived there all of my life. I eventually got a job opportunity in the Middle East, in Jordan, for three months. I came home to Busan for two weeks, then I moved to America right after that.

N: What were you doing in Jordan?

J: So there was a really big electric company’s plant, and a Korean company was doing the electric wiring. We were doing all of the electric system, low voltage as well as high voltage. I was managing, translating, working in finance, and meeting with other companies.

N: Especially coming from an ultra-safe, as well as familiar, city such as Busan, what was it like living in Jordan?

J: It was so dangerous. Well, the capital of Jordan was pretty safe but still you didn’t know what was going to happen. To get into most buildings or parking lots, they will always check under your vehicle with a mirror and search your stuff. I served in the military in Korea, so I am used to being around firearms and stuff like that. I was staying in fairly south Jordan, which is an extreme Muslim area, which is really ISIS friendly. When I would go outside many times I would see the guys driving by, hanging out of their SUVs with their rifles and shooting in the air. When I would walk down the sidewalk, people were so interested in me. I was the only foreigner. Even the local people didn’t want to stay there.

N: Can you tell me about moving to America?

J: I moved to Raleigh first, almost three years ago. I remember it was Fall. So, three years this Fall. Then I moved to Asheville a year and half ago. Raleigh seemed very normal and common American city. Nothing was that special at that time to me. Everything was more quiet. People there would do their duties and go home. I worked in carpentry and tiling for someone else. I also lived in Durham and I didn’t enjoy it at all.

N: So how did you end up in Asheville?

J: I had visited Asheville before and I really liked it, but at the time I didn’t know how hard it would be to find a job, or a place, and the high cost of living. So, when I moved here it was hard. So I found a guy looking for help on Craigslist. He taught me pretty much everything. I picked up all my skills from him and the experience. So I started growing my own business from that. The homeowners all really like me, and they give me pretty much the best reviews you can get on the online profiles. I have the very OCD, you know it’s a very Korean thing, being very clean and presentable about myself and my work.

N: So do you enjoy working for yourself and what type of work exactly are you doing?

J: I really enjoy working for myself because I can schedule myself. I usually only work about 5 hours a day, and work more if I need money. I work in carpentry such as trim work and crown molding. I also do tile work, drywall, electric, plumbing, painting, and pretty much anything. I do this work in Asheville and around like Weaverville and even further out.

N: What was your first impression of Asheville?

J: The people were so nice! The art. Nature. Those three define Asheville to me. I did a lot of hiking and camping with my friends right away. I went to waterfalls and jumped off the waterfalls. It was really cool.

N: Is there a decently-sized Korean community in Asheville?

J: It is not big at all. I have not really met many Koreans my age except for maybe two. There are older ones inviting me to Korean churches. But my age, there are very few.

N: So I know what it’s like to be a foreigner in Korea, in Busan specifically, and how I felt as part of that city and community. Can you explain a bit about your experience as a foreigner here in the United States, in Asheville specifically?

J: Korea and America are so different. So different. First of all, there are not many Asians here, and so I am in a spotlight here. You may understand what that is like. People here, in Asheville, are really open minded and really open to accept different cultures. More than that, they are really interested and excited about different cultures. So I was shocked, because they were so interested and asked me questions and didn’t mind where you are from or your skin color.

N: Can you explain why that may be different for someone who looks like me and talks like me, who lives in Korea?

J: Yeah, it’s different. In Korea, in South Korea, there are only Koreans. Not even Japanese or Chinese basically almost all full Koreans. So, Koreans my age are open minded but we haven’t seen Westerners much at all until more recently. We grew up only seeing them in movies! Then when you see them it’s like oh wow, they are here. Before there were no foreigners, so there is more curiosity. Here in America, and especially in Asheville, there is still that curiosity but people don’t want to be the same. In Korea there is only Korean culture, but here there are so many different cultures, from everywhere on this earth, so it is very different.

N: What is the best part of your experience here so far?

J: Sometimes Ashevillians will speak Korean to me! I will say, “What did you say? How did you know?” In other parts of America, these bigger cities like Raleigh, I would never have someone come up to me and speak Korean. I never had that experience at all until here. In Asheville, it will happen often. That is why this city is really special. It is definitely not your average US city, not to me.

Living Portrait Series: Gina Dill

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATHAN CHESKY

Smiley’s Flea Market is a method of time travel. The entire market contains treasures from each decade of the past century. For more recent finds, one can check out The Movie Zone.

I have been visiting this shop, found among the inside markets in the main building of Smiley’s, since I first got my driver’s license and came to the market on a Saturday morning looking for DVDs and Super Nintendo games. There has always been an overwhelming variety of media contained in their walls.

When I came back a few weeks ago, I noticed a mountain of VHS tapes towering over my head. The stack of tapes was close to 10 feet tall and 8 feet deep. When I arrived to interview co-owner Gina Dill, with that mountain of VHS in mind for a photo, even more boxes, shelves of comic books, model kits and other items covered the pile. A whole new room was filled in the back. The avalanche of content had reached a mesmerizing peak.

Nathan: So what is going on in here?

Dill: We bought out three separate collections, back-to-back-to-back, a model kit collection we have just started sorting through, a comic book collection. These were people who had been collecting their whole life and wanted to get rid of it all. We have been here for so long they know where to go when they are ready to get rid of them. So here we are.

N: Are you the owner and how long have you been here? Does it have an official name?

D: The Movie Zone. My husband, Jimmy, and I own it. (Speaking to her husband) Honey, how many years have we been here? 2003? Yes, 2003.

N: Can you share what you think is special about getting entertainment content this way instead of the convenience of clicking a few buttons on your remote at home?

D: That’s the fun of it. That’s the one thing I really enjoy. We really miss the saving up, the going through it, the having it in your hand. … On his (Dill’s nephew’s) birthday, we went down at midnight, went down to the store. It’s an event.

N: What all are you looking for?

D: We don’t really take in the VHS anymore, but we do trade. It seems to grow. When you think about this. A lot of movies were never put on DVD. You think about the little VHS for kids. You give a DVD to kids, they take it out and quickly scratch it. The tape they can take it out themselves, they can manipulate it themselves.

N: What do you sell the most of?

D: It depends on the day. There have been days where I sell only model kits, then I won’t sell them for weeks. There was a weekend where we must have sold 100 VHS tapes, and of course days where we are selling just all DVDs.

N: Is this solely what you do for a living?

D: I am actually a nurse, a registered nurse. I was working here and we have five children. They wanted me to work more hours than I wanted to work. I was PRN, but I chose family first. I was kind of glad when that was over too.

N: Do you consider this your full-time job then?

D: Well we are only open on the weekends but believe me I promise you it’s full time. We have to go through everything that we just got in. We probably work more hours than at a normal job. Believe me it’s a full-time job.

N: What is your favorite item you have found?

D: Actually my favorite item is probably my Hercules sign. Do you know where it came from? It came from the park, the Disney park. We actually went down to the Disneyana convention and purchased it there. (The convention) was held at the Contemporary Resort (in Walt Disney World). It was actually hanging in the park.

N: How many DVDs do you have? Is that an impossible question?

D: If you saw what we have in the back you wouldn’t even ask! (Laughs)

N: And you are open year around?

D: Yes we are, every weekend.

N: For people who may not have considered shopping at a flea market, what would you share about this place that customers may not know?

D: There are a lot of great deals. Oddities. Things you won’t find in the stores anymore. People are trying to rush and just buy gifts. Instead of stopping to actually think about what would bring joy to their lives. Coming out here, you can find some of those items that might mean more. You can really make people happy.

Living Portrait Series: Gary Lunsford

TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATHAN CHESKY

For the month of November, Asheville photographer Nathan Chesky is exploring the grounds of Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher, an open-air market he has been visiting for more than a decade. 

Gary Lunsford, 70, of East Asheville, has been selling at a permanent booth at Smiley’s Flea Market in Fletcher for more than 12 years. I spent an early autumn morning walking around his space with him, asking him questions about the market, his life and collecting. I picked up a few things, took a couple portraits of him surrounded by his wares, and we talked about the history of the area and of some of his items. Lunsford has everything for sale from dolls to guns, from sturdy ancient metal axes to completely natural and fragile wasp nests, both of which were plucked out of nearby barns.

Nathan: So Gary, How long have you been selling out here at Smiley’s?

Gary: I have been here about 10 years, 10 to 12 years here in this spot, in this booth.

Nathan: How and where do you acquire your collections?

Gary: People bring it to me, and I go everywhere. From Tennessee, Pennsylvania, different places. I have done it for so long I know people I can buy from and they know me….(speaking to customers) Do y’all need some help here? Those are bee’s nests. They come out of Hendersonville.

Nathan: How long have you been collecting?

Gary: Oh lord! I’d say I’ve messed with this old stuff for up to over 40 years.

Nathan: When you’re out there looking what in particular are you looking for?

Gary: I like horse-drawn stuff, like old plows, wagons — stuff like that.  And I get into axles and anvils. I like to mess with those. I’ve just always bought old things.

Nathan: This is a little different. (I hold up a heavy yet handheld sized Buddha statue I found in the back part of his shop.) What can you tell me about its story?

Gary: Them came out of Fort Bragg. I wanted the Big Buddhas. The big ones, they went out of here fast. That’s all that is left. It’s $25.

Nathan: So what was your line of work before you spent most of your time out here?

Gary: Ingles. Ingles produce. I was in Ingles produce for 12 years. Retired four years now.

Nathan: What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever found while on the road?

Gary: Griswold frying pans. We sell a lot of Griswold. They’re high dollar.

Nathan: Where did you get that snakeskin?

Gary: That came out from near Cherokee. That’s a rattlesnake. That’s a female there. I sold the male.

Nathan: How can you tell?

Gary: The female is yellow. I asked the same question to the hide man. He’s the one who told me.

Nathan: So are you here year-round?

Gary: Yeah, right here, snow, sleet or shine. If there’s a dollar involved, I’m here. (Laughs.) And I’ll sell stuff on craigslist. I’m out (of) here through the week — if people call me, I’ll come out. I’ll meet whoever calls me to meet them out here. I don’t sit out here through the week. I’m out on the road. But people will bring me stuff out here. They just know I’m here.

Nathan: How do you know where and what to buy?

Gary: People call me through the week. They will find stuff out at yard sales or barns or wherever and call me and I’ll usually buy it. That’s what I do through the week.

Nathan: Seems like a lot of people know you, that’s for sure.

Gary: I enjoy it. I enjoy talking and cutting up with people. That’s the best part. Well a lot of people call and a lot of people just walk in. Thanks for coming in. Come back anytime. There has got to be something in here you need!