Zooming in to find a well-crafted sandwichIt’s always been tough to get a good sandwich in Itaewon. Sure, now we have the fast-food chains Subway and Schlotzsky’s, and Gecko’s offers a nice blackened-chicken number. But Itaewon has never had a deli or diner that turns your crank.
If you want a good sandwich you have to venture beyond Itaewon. But now you don’t have to travel far. Just get to a certain new diner, down in Hannam-dong, a long walk or short motorcycle ride away. Oh wait, you still ride that Daelim 125cc ottobike? You’d better leave that home, unless you want to get throttled.
That’s because the sandwich joint called Rider’s ― opened recently by a Korean-American woman, Ha Yea-kyung ― is right next to the local Harley-Davidson dealership, and caters to the Harley faithful. In fact, the interior of Ms. Ha’s shop was designed by the owner of the Harley store, and resembles a bike garage, albeit one clean enough to eat in.
The friendly Ms. Ha, who’ll ask you to call her by her English name, Diane, knows sandwiches. While living in America, from 1973 until she returned to Korea last May, she ran her own deli, called Harlem Place, first in Washington, D.C., then in Seattle.
Ms. Ha came back to Korea last year because, well, life is like a motorcycle ride ― eventually you have to come home. Luckily for us, she’s brought her sandwich-crafting expertise with her, and put it to good use. At Rider’s, you can choose from seven kinds of sandwiches: ham and cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato, club, salami, turkey, egg or tuna. Each comes with potato chips and a pickle wedge, and costs about 6,000 won ($5.14). Also on the menu are soups and salads and beer and wine. For after, there’s coffee from a genuine diner-style machine.
The trappings of the new diner hint that Ms. Ha is a motorcycle momma. But she’s not, at least not yet. “To be honest, I really don’t know much about motorcycles,” she said. “But now I’m starting to, because I constantly hear that motorcycle sound coming and going.”
About 15 percent of Ms. Ha’s customers are biker types, she says. One, a middle-aged American, is particularly interesting. He regularly boasts that he has three wives ― one American, one Japanese and one Korean. This perplexed Ms. Ha until one day the man asked if she wanted to meet his American wife, who he said was just outside. Ms. Ha was then taken out and introduced to his Harley.
The nonbikers who frequent Rider’s tend to be besuited types from nearby offices and embassies. Folks from the Volvo building down the road come every day for lunch, Ms. Ha said.
Nevertheless, business at Rider’s is still in low gear. But Ms. Ha expects it to accelerate once spring rolls around. Once it reaches cruising speed she wants to start a second shop, this time in Apgujeong. Let’s hope that down the road she parks one in Itaewon proper.
by Mike Ferrin