This is dedicated to my dear Papa and Mama to who I owe my success to. I miss you dearly and I wish you could see how much I’ve grown as your little Lizzy.
Every family had a legacy, and in the Cho family, we have our dear family restaurant. I’m writing this autobiography in the hopes that one day these stories, along with my recipes book, will be passed down from generation to generation to keep our family restaurant successful as it is.
Though it took a lot of hard work and perseverance to build this amazing restaurant, and I’m sure you will feel the same if you ever get the opportunity to work in it, it is worth every sweat and tear.
Chapter 1: How it all began
Chapter 2: Live, Work, Love, and Repeat
Chapter 3: Generations
Chapter 1: How it all began
My name is Elizabeth Cho. I was born on February 12th 1946 and bought up in a very small town in Korea. I have an elder brother named Brian Cho and also a twin brother named Andrew Cho.
I am the youngest in my family as my twin brother Andrew was born just 2 minutes before I was. As the youngest child in our family, and being the only girl, papa gave me most of his attention. I was often spoilt by my family, since I was the youngest girl. I even got a nickname at home. Papa would often call me Lizzy and because of this, people knew me more as Lizzy than Elizabeth.
Our family wasn’t very rich but we had enough to get by. We were considerably a large family so my parents had to work quite a bit to put food on the table. My parents, James and Patricia Cho, were very loving parents. They dedicated their lives to bringing our family up and tried very hard to provide their kids with the best life they could. Growing up we might have not had the most luxurious lifestyle but we enjoyed each other’s company and that was enough to keep us happy throughout.
Our main source of income was our family restaurant. Because of mama’s love for the culinary arts, papa decided to open up a restaurant for her. It was called Patricia’s. Mama was an amazing cook. Her recipes would bring people from every corner of the country to our restaurant. Mama would often be in charge of the kitchen. Having a large family, my brothers and I often grew up within this restaurant. I usually helped mama in the kitchen. She and I would test out various recipes together.
She would keep me on the counter top and I would watch her create greatness in the kitchen while papa and my brothers would be at the front, serving the customers and managing the cashier.
I remember when I was about 3 years old, I was sitting on my usual spot on the counter top with mama in the kitchen. She was cooking her favorite chicken soup. While I sat next to the stove, I accidentally dropped a good amount of butter into the hot pot which melted due to the heat and mixed with the soup.
Mama thought the entire soup was a disaster that day but as she tasted it, she realized her recipe could have used an extra bit of butter to taste good. And just like that, the famous Patricia’s soup was born! And that’s all thanks to my childish behavior.
Life was the sweetest during those days. We were so happy running a restaurant together. Not every day was good, some days were bad, but at the end of the day once the doors were shut, my family and I would get together at the best seat in the restaurant and enjoy a meal together while we shared about our days. And I used to look forward to it every day. But things changed drastically with the loss of papa.
On April 15th 1958, my dear father bid farewell to this world. He suffered from severe lung cancer. He was an excessive smoker and I’m sure that’s what caused his death but the man was never afraid to die so he still continued his ways. Mama would often have arguments about his behavior but he didn’t want to let it go.
He always said he didn’t have anything to worry about even if he suddenly passed away one day because he has already given us a steady future by opening up a restaurant. He was proud of us and he was even more proud of the journey we were building for ourselves.
We mourned the loss of our father for many months. Even to this date, I miss him dearly. Our family changed a lot after his passing but, I seemed to be the one who was mostly affected by this. He was my hero and we were very close to each other. He called me Lizzy, his little girl and I loved being his Lizzy. So it was natural that his passing would affect me the most.
But just as much he was my hero, I knew he was the strength that my brothers and mama had too and they too were as much devastated with his passing. But if he was here today, I’m sure he’d feel very proud of who we have become today and how far we’ve come.
Chapter 2: Live, Work, Love, and Repeat.
After the loss of papa, our restaurant seemed to have dulled. For months mama would spontaneously break out into tears in the middle of the kitchen, especially when she was making Papa’s favorite dish. With Papa gone, as the eldest in the family, Brian had to take all the burden.
He had to push through and start the restaurant all over again, and to be honest with you, I think he did a pretty good job. The restaurant might have not been as lively as it was when papa was around but, he was in our hearts every day and with his spirit in our hearts, we moved forward.
As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in the kitchen. Soon, I too started to help Mama in the kitchen and we build amazing new recipes together. We were back on track and getting popular by the day. At the age of 18, I was completely running the kitchen. We had recruited many chefs and helpers in the kitchen. I was leading all of them while mama guided me in the right direction. One night, a customer asked to pass his compliments to the chef on our famous Patricia’s soup. Mama asked me to visit this customer and talk to him in his seat. As I walked out, I saw a young Korean boy sitting there enjoying his meal.
He was born and bought up in America and he was visiting Korea on a quest to enjoy Korea’s rich cuisine and our restaurant happened to be one of the spots for him. But little did I know, I would be seeing this young man many times afterwards.
His name was David Min. He enjoyed our food so much that he became a regular. We talked very often and we build a friendship. My mom was very fond of him as she though he was a very polite child. My brothers got along with him as well. David ended up visiting us almost on a daily basis for almost a year. And at the end of the year, when it was finally time for him to go back, he didn’t want to leave empty handed. He wanted to take my hand in marriage and asked for mama’s blessings.
Initially, mama was reluctant. She had never sent me away from home, but she knew that David and I were madly in love and he would protect me and afford for me a good lifestyle no matter what the cost.
Eventually, she gives him her blessing and we were married soon after.
We had a very intimate wedding celebration in Korea and soon after, David, his family and I, moved to America. David was very comfortable in the American environment, but I of course, took some time to adjust in.
I wasn’t very fluent in my English so I had to go to classes and learn to be able to communicate with others. I didn’t have any friends of my own, so David introduced me to his friends and we got quite close. But regardless of hoe close and nice they were to me, I couldn’t stop missing home. I had never been away from my family so I used to write them many letters. I missed them dearly. Travelling to and from Korea often was too expensive for David to afford and hence, we missed some very important occasions. Within a year of me moving to America,
Brian was married to his then girlfriend. I had met her better I left and I was very happy she was joining to the family. Almost two years after their wedding, Andrew got married to, as I had heard, a very sweet girl who was such younger than he was.
Both my new sister in laws knew their way around the kitchen, so with me gone, mama always had them by her side to help her out. And just knowing that mama wasn’t left alone made me feel so much happier.
Chapter 3: Generations
Years and years passed in America and I still hadn’t met my family. I felt very much disconnected to them. Back in the day, we didn’t have such evolved technology to take advantage. There was no video calling, or posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram. The only way we communicated was through letters. Even though America had telephone back then, it wasn’t very popular within our small town in Korea.
On February 12th 1969, on my 23rd birthday, my dear husband David Min gave me a surprised that I would never forget in my life. As I woke up on the morning of my birthday, David had placed a key right next to my pillow. I was very confused. I walked downstairs to the kitchen where David was and asked him about it. I still remember the grin he had on his face. David was never good as hiding his excitement. His face gave it all away.
As he finally managed to stop smiling, he lets me know that it’s the key to my new restaurant in America. He knew how much I missed mama, and my brothers and how happy our little restaurant made me and he had worked tirelessly for the past few years to earn me my own restaurant. I was beyond happy. If I could write about how much love I had for my dear husband David, I could fill up all the books in the world. He was a gem of a man and I love him dearly.
Soon after, we opened up our new restaurant in America. I was so excited about the day that I remember writing a very long letter to mama describing every little details of the restaurant. I even sent her a picture of it. I wanted to bring the taste of Korea to America so I recreated all of mama’s recipes, down to every last ingredient. And I named the restaurant in memory of papa, “James’s kitchen”. Oh how I wished papa was there to see that day. He would have been so happy.
As happy as we were about our new restaurant, business wasn’t booming as much as we expected it to. Americans were not very familiar with Korea food and they rather the normal pancaked and burgers. We were clearly struggling. And to make matters even more stressful than it was, we found out that I was pregnant.
Of course we were overjoyed that we were having a baby, but the stress of affording for this baby when our income was bare minimum was scary. Because by this time, David too had left his job to join me in the restaurant as he was confident on running a family business. But not for long, so it happened.
But I didn’t give up. I stepped back in the kitchen and gave it everything I could. I was determined to give our family a good life. Even though I was pregnant, I worked very hard day and night coming up with new recipes that would make the Americans more interested in the food we sell. It is then that I came up with a fusion cuisines idea. I decided that it would be best to incorporate Korean flavors in American food. If the customers wanted burgers and pancakes, we’ll serve them burgers and pancakes, just with a Korean twist.
The idea was phenomenal! Soon we were booming with sales. And just a few months after, we welcomed out first baby boy into the world, James Min, named after his grandfather. Our restaurant was doing very well. The idea of a fusion cuisine was impeccable. Soon we were having people from all over the country coming to taste our food. David and I didn’t want to keep serving our customers the dame old menu every day, so we often go together in the kitchen with James to experiment on new recipes. It wasn’t easy, not every recipe was a success. We had to experiment a lot to perfect a recipe so I documented every step pf the way so that I don’t forget it.
Three years after the birth of James, we gave birth to our sweet little girl Andrea Min. I remembered how much mother used to have y on her kitchen counter as she made new recipes and I wanted Andrea to grow up in the same way. At a very early age, it was clear that Andrea loved to cook. Maybe it was because she saw me working at the restaurant most of her life, but if she would ever play dress up, she was dress up as a chef managing a kitchen. She was tiny but she had a very commanding voice.
I was sure she was going to walk in my footsteps. James on the other hand was a very white child. I guess he took after his father. He didn’t show much interest in our restaurant until he started playing with his younger sister and she started playing cooking games. My little family was growing while centering our dear restaurant and I couldn’t be happier. But it deeply saddened me that my family had never gotten to see my children.
But this was soon to change. On our tenth wedding anniversary, my husband once again surprised me with the most thoughtful gift. He had arranged a tour of America for my family. They visited us and we introduced them to our life, our restaurant and our family. It was the happiest week of my life. I was so emotional about not seeing my family and David was so thoughtful that he bought them to me. As time passed by. The restaurant seemed to be booming more and more. I was so proud of our hard work out into it. Only if papa could have seen us now. He would have been so proud of us.
After the passing of my dear mama in the year 1996, the restaurant in Korea was run by my brother and sister in laws. Though they accomplished a great deal in bringing up a successful restaurant, the presence of my mama was always missing in the kitchen. That’s why I wanted to keep her spirit alive and I too wanted to pass down all of it to my children one day. And I did.
Andrea and James, just like my brothers and I, grew up surrounded by our restaurant. Everything we did, we did to boost ours restaurant. They ever pursued their higher education to help the family business grow. James majored in business management while Andrea received her degree in the culinary arts. Even after James and Andrea got married, they put in all they had to keep the restaurant growing. And today. James and Andrea along with their families are running our restaurant. It’s never an easy task but together, they are giving it their best shot. My only dream is that one day, all these will be passed down to my grandchildren and from them to theirs, and so on for generations to come.