"I believe in America because we have great dreams -- and because we have the opportunity to make those dreams come true." -- Wendell L. Wilkie
July 4, 2013, has come and gone. Do you remember what you did that day? I trust it included attending one of the many parades that took place in the Bay Area. After all, parades are as much a Fourth of July tradition as picnics, barbecues and fireworks.
My wife and I, with portable chairs slung over our shoulders, selected a shady corner to view the Concord parade. Hundreds of other spectators also lined the streets and listened to band after band pour out their melodic souls, watched students of martial arts demonstrate their athletic prowess, marveled at the Chinese dragon as it wove in and out of the crowd, admired horsemen astride their beautiful mounts and on and on.
The procession ended fittingly at noon with a stirring musical rendition by the Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps. Although the parade was wholly homespun, everyone enjoyed it just the same.
This year's pageant included a goodly number of African-American, Hispanic and Asian entrants showcasing their cultures. It was as American as you can get!
When my parents arrived in the United States, immigrants from Asia and countries outside Europe were a rarity. Not so today. Names like Singh, Gomez and Wong are fast becoming as common as Smith, Jones and Williams. And after five generations, I can proudly say the Kobayashi clan is as American as apple pie and Yankee sushi!
The names Chae Mun and Min Young Pak may not sound familiar to you. However, anyone who has eaten at Min's Kitchen on Clayton Road in Concord will immediately recognize them as Min and Jay co-owners of the restaurant. Now you know.
As a young man, Jay, along with his mother and siblings, emigrated from Korea and settled in Concord. That was 30 years ago. He was put to work as a dishwasher in his aunt's restaurant the very next morning after he arrived.
Unable to speak a word of English, Jay signed up at a local community college to learn the language. For the next two years, Jay attended school and worked in the restaurant with no days off and only three hours of sleep a day. Most young people would cringe at the thought!
Upon the death of his uncle and talk of selling his aunt's restaurant, Jay returned to Korea to revive a business venture he and a friend started before he moved to the United States. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out for him. But the trip was far from wasted. Jay met Min and the inevitable happened. They got married.
Min remained behind in Korea while Jay returned to the States to get re-established.
Jay opened a beauty supply outlet in Oakland which he and Min operated after her arrival two years later. But competition from the more established businesses forced them to give it up.
In the interim, Jay took courses in the building trade and obtained a general contractor's license. He engaged for a time in construction work, but the slump in the national economy eventually forced him back into the restaurant business.
In December 2009, Jay and Min decided on opening their own restaurant and took over the location that had a history of several failed restaurants in an older shopping center of Concord.
Renovating their space was a major project that required the effort of the entire family. But no one minded the hard work. Their primary concern was whether the restaurant would attract enough customers once it opened.
The first few days were disappointing and caused the couple to wonder if they'd made a poor decision. But they refused to give it up and thanks to their perseverance as well as the excellent quality of their food and service, they won out. The rest is history.
Drop in any weekend and you're likely to have to wait for a table. And the weekday business isn't bad either.
It's said that America is a land of opportunity, and this is an excellent example of what that means to those who are willing to put forth the effort and continue on despite the odds. There's an old familiar saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
Thanks for your perseverance, Jay and Min, and congratulations on your 23rd wedding anniversary. (Oh yes, Jay plays practically every position on his industrial softball team and he's quite the player despite his small stature. And that, friends, makes him an all-American!)
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.