THE DOOR IS UNLOCKED, but indoors the scene is desolate, changed – bare floor boards and empty space. “Hello?” I call out to a man who is working in the back room, “Is the owner here?” The worker nods, and then catches the attention of someone I cannot see. Moments later a different man greets me – but his face, too, is unfamiliar.
“Oh, I meant someone else,” I say, trailing off. The room I stand in – once filled with plush couches and the comforting scent of traditional Korean baked goods – is deconstructed, and now smells only of drywall. The walls are stripped of the crimson paper that once covered them; between them there is nothing, save for the counter and an old fryer in back.
“What happened to the owner of the bakery?” I ask.
“He closed,” the man replies, “About a month ago.”
A flush of regret. Why didn’t I stop by last time I was in town?
“Did he close because of the new H-Mart?” I ask, referring to the retail temple of Asian foods across the street – both a boon and a curse to the local Korean community. The man gives me a resigned grin and nods. We share an unspoken second of comiseration over what is likely only the latest loss of another mom-and-pop joint – killed by convenience.
“I used to work here several years ago,” I tell him. “Does the old owner still live nearby?”
The man nods, and silence follows. I break it, wishing him a merry Christmas and letting him get back to work – gutting the space where I spent my last summer before college, where I kneaded dough, packed rice cakes, cracked eggs and burned my fingertips dropping donuts into hot oil.
Outside, I pause in the December air long enough to feel a pang of vague and unexpected sadness. I realize that I don’t have my old boss’ phone number, and that I’ve lost touch with anyone who would.
TDT is back home in Seattle for a couple weeks. Posts may be a little thin due to the holidays – best wishes for the season and the New Year to all you readers.