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Friday, January 26, 2007

COFFEE SHOP: American Legacy - Asian Immigrant Experience



For the last few months, I've been looking for a unique angle to highlight and celebrate the peculiar and interesting phenomenon of Asian-owned and operated coffee shops in the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm still not sure I've found it, but I feel it's there – perhaps lurking around and visible only to the sharpest and most sensitive eye.

Although the phenomenon of newly arrived immigrants taking up the reigns of an existing business is nothing new or special, what is noteworthy is the seemingly common way in which traditional American coffee shops and diners have been preserved by newcomers from Asia, rather than native-born Americans. In the South, where I'm originally from, it's the Greeks who've traditionally owned and operated the American-style diners and lunch counters, as explored in depth on the Southern Foodways Alliance website.

Personally speaking, I vividly remember that as a child, Mom and I would sometimes drive downtown to visit Dad on his lunch break. Dad worked in downtown Asheville, a block away from a Greek-owned lunch counter called Johnny-O's. It was here that I first fell in love with the smells, the sights, and the atmosphere of an old school American dive. Unfortunately Johnny O's closed many years ago, long before I left home, and since then downtown Asheville has lost much of it's old working class eating joints – the last one I remember being left was the lunch counter at Woolworths.

No serious "diver" can explore and appreciate the many coffee shops (note: not coffee houses or corporate coffee retailers), lunch counters, breakfast joints, and diners in the bay area and not notice that almost all of them are owned by a single family, often Asian, often raising kids, and often all running and working in the restaurant together. What's most interesting is that, with few exceptions, nothing else about these old throw-backs to an earlier age have been changed by their new owners. If nothing else these new owners, fresh from distant lands, have preserved the character, the spirit, and most of all, the cuisine that has flourished in these most American of restaurants for decades.

I have already explored some of these places with you, which I will link to at the bottom of this post. In the next few weeks I will explore even more and share with you my likes, dislikes (if any), some quick glimpses, and hopefully something a little more in depth and personal than what I usually write about – all while focusing on these wonderful, quirky, and unique establishments.

Stay tuned by checking back here as I add more restaurants to the list below.

COFFEE SHOP: American Legacy - Asian Immigrant Experience

Featuring:

What's in a Name?: Anatomy of a Coffee Shop
Irving Street Cafe
Manor Coffee Shop
Westlake Coffee Shop
Golden Coffee Shop
Curly's Coffee Shop
Sam's Coffee Shop
Koffee Pot
HRD Coffee Shop
Lafayette Coffee Shop
Mimi's Manor House Restaurant

k.

1 Comments:

At 7:06 AM, Anonymous Kim said...

Hey I love your page!
Keep it updated!

 

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