In the Defense Media Activity building on Fort Meade, Md., a small café provides breakfast and lunch for the service members there. It’s run by a South Korean family who have worked through setbacks and used their generational strengths to find their niche.
Young & Michelle Cafe is owned by Young Chin Suh and her sister Whoo Jung Kim, who goes by Michelle. Young’s son Justin works there several days a week. His English is the strongest, so he works the register while the sisters cook. This is their first time working with the military, but Justin said it hasn’t been a big deal.
“The military aspect hasn’t really come up,” Justin said. “Everyone’s just a customer trying to get some food. “
Their menu is limited, as fire safety codes won’t allow a grill. They make due with a small conveyor oven, microwave and crockpot. For a while, the family churned out delicious bulgogi and homemade sweet potato pasta. Justin said it didn’t last long though.
We were using an electric griddle in the back, to cook the food and heat up some of the food. We got shut down because there was no ventilation in the kitchen. Now we’re not really sure if we can make Korean food anymore, so we’re thinking of different specials we can try out.
For now it’s mainly sandwiches. Still, a steady trickle of customers stops by, many bowing in the Korean custom. Justin appreciates the gesture, but said it’s really just second nature to him.
“I’ve been bowing as long as I can remember. I don’t even realize it’s happening.”
Young moved to the U.S. about 25 years ago. Like many immigrants, she sought a better life. She summed up her time here with a shy smile and few words.
“It’s good,” Young said. “Everything’s good.”
The presence of every military branch makes it very difficult for the family to figure out who’s who, but Justin said there’s one way to pick out the peons.
“A majority of the people would take the day off, but there are still a couple of people working. We’re guessing those are the lower ranks.”
Young & Michelle has only been in this building for about six months, so time will tell if they can find a way to express their South Korean culture through food, or make the business work as a basic deli.