BRATTLEBORO—Anyone hoping for Shin La’s yaki mandu dumplings in 2019 is likely out of luck.
After almost 40 years of business, the restaurant’s owner, Yisoon Kim, served her last customers on Dec. 31, 2018.
But maybe not for good, she said.
Last week, said Kim, a “young man, 30 years old, from New York City, came in to eat” and expressed interest in buying the restaurant. Kim said he still has to find a lawyer in Vermont, and his New York lawyer is trying to help with the sale.
“It’s not 100 percent, but I hope for the best,” she said.
If this sale goes through, Kim expects the new owner will keep the name and the menu.
“I am willing to work with him. I’d like to teach him,” she said, and added, “I think it would be nice.”
In late 2015, Kim started seeking a buyer for her Korean restaurant. At the time, she told The Commons she was nearing age 65 and wanted to stop while she was still healthy. Pointing to herself, she said, “the machine breaks down.”
In December, after three years of searching for a new owner, but with no serious offers, Kim prepared to close.
Kim asked her bookkeeper when she should cease operations. The answer: at the end of the calendar year, because this would make it easiest for tax and licensing purposes.
“I took her word,” said Kim, and added, “that gave me courage.”
If the sale doesn’t go through, Kim will keep trying to find a buyer. The restaurant is listed on businessbroker.net with an asking price of $150,000. The site lists annual revenues at $385,000.
She told The Commons, “if anyone is interested in taking over from me, and they want to keep the menu, I can train them. They should call me.”
From Korea to Baltimore to Brattleboro
Kim and her husband, Tae Mo Kim, moved to Brattleboro from Baltimore in 1981. The couple had emigrated to the United States from “the riceland state, Chun Buk,” in Korea, said Yisoon Kim.
Their first business in town was Anthony’s, a sandwich and soup shop on Elliot Street, where they slowly added Korean items to the menu. In 1985, they purchased the three-story Ullery Block at 57–61 Main St. and moved the restaurant to the vacant storefront. They later added a sushi bar.
The Kims grew their business and their clientele, and raised three children with the help of Tae Mo’s mother, Bun Yi Kim. The elder Mrs. Kim could often be seen walking up Main Street in her long skirts with one of her grandchildren strapped to her back.
In 2000, Tae Mo Kim was diagnosed with cancer. His radiation treatments left him too ill to work, so he began staying home, tending to his garden — which has provided produce for the restaurant — in the warm weather, and cooking dinner for his wife every night. Her job would be running the restaurant, alone, for the next 18 years.
Now that that’s finished, what’s next for Yisoon Kim?
“I’ll be so relieved when this person takes over. I’ll be free. And then maybe I’ll relax,” she said.
For decades, Kim has looked forward to bringing her children to Jeju Island, a popular tourist spot known as “South Korea’s Hawaii.”
When Tae Mo got sick, Kim made a commitment to “work, saving my husband’s life, and raising my children,” she said. Now that work is over and her children are grown, she wants to travel to Jeju Island with them.
Other than taking a well-earned vacation, Kim is not leaving the area.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she said, and added, “I’m not selling the building, at least not yet. I still need to feed myself. Maybe in a few years I’ll sell it. For now, I’m just selling the business.”
Kim isn’t quite finished, yet. During the first week of the new year, she was busy every day, giving Shin La a final cleaning.
She also found herself serving a few customers, a purpose she said she was born with. In the days after the restaurant closed, “customers still call a lot, they didn’t get the news,” said Kim.
“I made chicken soup for a man today. He came in sick with a cold, and I feel bad because I have no soup,” she said. “I asked him, ‘Can you come in after noon?’ Then I went out and got a chicken.”
Even with the stragglers, officially closing the restaurant has already provided Kim with some relief.
“I came home today at 5 p.m.,” she said. “I usually come home at 10 p.m.”
Kim is very clear that she is “in perfectly fine health” but, she admitted, “I’m getting older and more tired. I just can’t take it anymore.”
She admits she already misses her customers.
“That’s why I answer the phone, so I can do for them,” she said — even while she’s trying to clean out Shin La’s refrigerators and pack up her belongings.
“I want to say thank you to the customers for supporting me for so many decades,” said Kim. “They made my family safe and well for 37 years. Without them, I wouldn’t have made this for my family,” she said.
She noted, “my children turned out very well. My husband isn’t too well, but he is living, and that encourages me.”