This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country have been effected by the pandemic.
The Covid pandemic hit California hard. It has seen well over 3.5 million cases and over 60,000 deaths. Scores of businesses have closed. But for Ana Jimenez the owner of Tacos El Jerry, a small fleet of food trucks in Santa Cruz County, it provided an opportunity to bring her business into the 21st century.
Ms. Jimenez’s four trucks began taking orders through an app and a website, delivering directly to customers, and cultivating a customer base through a new social media presence. All of that added up to a significant increase in sales.
Facebook and Instagram pages for the food trucks, a social media advertising campaign and began accepting credit card purchases. “Each truck is now serving around 300 people per day, which translates to roughly $5,000 in sales daily,” Ms. Jimenez said.
Food trucks — kitchens on wheels, essentially — are flexible by design and quickly became a substitute during the pandemic for customers who couldn’t dine indoors and coveted something different than their mainstream carryout options. That, in turn, has delivered a new client base to add on to an existing cadre of loyal followers. In a very real sense, food trucks are vehicles for equality in the post-pandemic world.
“While the pandemic has certainly hurt the majority of small businesses, it has also pushed many to be more innovative by looking for new revenue streams and ways to reach customers,” said Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University.
Like Ms. Jimenez, some businesses have “focused on ways to maintain their customer base by, for example, delivering products directly to customers,” Prof. Eddleston said. “While others have created products and services that attract new customers.”
Blue Sparrow food trucks in Pittsburgh, adding pizza, four-packs of local beer, gift cards and five-ounce bottles of housemade hot sauce.
Mr. Cypher’s main fare since he hit the streets in 2016 has been global street food. His menu carries a heavy Asian inspiration. There’s made-from-scratch kimchi on the menu daily. Dishes can include rice bowls, Vietnamese banh mi, falafel burritos, and a burger made with a ramen bun.
During the pandemic, Mr. Cypher’s business took a hit when 24 festivals and over a dozen weddings where he was booked were canceled. “I switched gears to keep things as lean as possible,” Mr. Cypher said.
He temporarily shut down a second food truck — a retrofitted 35-foot, 1956 Greyhound bus that he used for the big parties — and introduced a website to interact with his customers and an online ordering system for his smaller truck, which he usually parked at a neighborhood brewery.
“I switched the menu to focus on soups, noodles, burritos and pressed sandwiches, so that the things that we were handing our customers would make it home and still be a good experience after they opened up the bag and took it out,” he said.
Today in Business
And he began to make and sell pizza one day a week at the kitchen where he used to do his prep work for the trucks before the pandemic. (The pizza, too, has an international flair: a banh mi pie, for example, made with pork or tofu, miso garlic sauce, mozzarella, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro.)
Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit organization providing small-business owners with access to capital, networks and coaching. “Many food truck owners stepped forward to seize opportunity during a time of great uncertainty,” she said.
As Pittsburgh emerges from the pandemic, Mr. Cypher is adding a twist at his kitchen location. “We have licensing to offer beer on draft from our local breweries, so we’re going to have a small beer garden,” he said. “And that’s a revenue stream that we’re going to kind of lean into that we probably never would have done if not for Covid.”
In 2020, Mr. Cypher’s food trucks had $200,000 in gross sales, down about 40 percent from the previous year, he said. “But with the new offerings, more efficiency and only running one rig, we were actually able to net enough to keep the business moving forward,” he said. “This year we’re already up about 30 percent from where we were at last year at this time.”
Shiso Crispy, timing was much tricker: she opened her first truck in November 2019, just a few months before the pandemic. And yet Ms. Whaley, 35, who offers handmade gyozas, bao buns and their signature dish, dirty rice, now has two trucks because of a strategy of regularly parking in certain neighborhoods and offering discounted and free meals outside a nearby Ronald McDonald House. (She added the second truck in January.)
One challenge: “The internet here is shoddy. And cellphone service in different areas out here just doesn’t work,” she said. “During the height of the pandemic, I was consistently losing two or more transactions at my point of sale every shift.”
Clover Flex point of sale program for touchless transactions. “It has digitally transformed my business,” Ms. Whaley said.
She also signed on to an app, called Best Food Trucks, that allows customers near her to pre-order once they know her location for the day.
“The inextricably connected stories of food trucks and Covid are a perfect microcosm of the undeniable reality that women, immigrants and people of color, historically relegated to the edges of the economy, are actually the foundation upon which the next economy must be built,” said Nathalie Molina Niño, author of “Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.”
But the silver lining from the pandemic for some operators is more personal — including bringing families together. “I have a ton of wisdom about how to operate food trucks and cooking,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s the coming together of the generations that made the business stronger now and for the future.”
The costume designer and wardrobe stylist Zerina Akers does not want people to think that her life is picture-perfect, even if she spends her time making sure that her clients are.
“I want to dispel the thought that it is glamorous,” she said of her days, which often include piecing together ensembles for her celebrity clientele, overseeing fittings and tending to her e-tail site. “Yeah, you’re dealing with beautiful things, but you also have to deal with all the luggage, getting all the looks right and running around. It’s a lot of hard work and heavy lifting.”
And, lately, she has been doing all of that on a wounded ankle. She’s mainly worn comfort shoes during the pandemic, but a pair of post-quarantine wedge heels led to her recent mishap. (“Who did I think I was?!” she said, while describing the stumble during a phone interview.)
Ms. Akers, 35, is the go-to stylist for Beyoncé Knowles-Carter — the iconic oversized black hat that the singer modeled in the 2016 “Formation” music video was her handiwork. She also compiled the wardrobe for Ms. Knowles-Carter’s opulent 2020 visual album, “Black Is King,” pulling designs from both established European fashion houses and independent designers from across the African diaspora.
Black Owned Everything, an e-commerce hub featuring a curated selection of apparel, accessories, beauty and décor products.
“Last summer, there was a huge surge in support of Black brands,” she said, describing widespread calls for inclusivity and representation that swelled after the protests against racism and police brutality. That led some people to ask a new question: How long would this last?
“Would it be something that’s going to stick around and really create change, or was it just a trend?” Ms. Akers said. “I felt it was important to not wait around and gauge the reaction of the fashion industry. We were able to create something that we own, and we’re going to keep it going,” she said of the website, which features about three dozen brands.
Ms. Akers, a Maryland native who is based in Van Nuys, Calif., has also been designing clothing recently, a throwback to her teenage years spent creating garments for school fashion shows. Some of her work — a color-blocked dress, a chain-trim bodysuit, a trench jumpsuit — is featured in a capsule collection of separates for Bar III, the private label from Macy’s.
We spoke with her in early May, as she mulled over ideas for revamping the Black Owned Everything site and sorted through wardrobe items intended for the Colombian reggaeton artist Karol G and Chloe Bailey of the R&B duo Chloe x Halle.
Interviews are conducted by email, text and phone, then condensed and edited.
Brandice Daniel, the founder and chief executive of Harlem’s Fashion Row, as part of their annual Designer Retreat. We’re on with the accessories designer Brandon Blackwood, talking about our career paths and giving advice to young people on how to make it in fashion. I talk about the importance of being in good financial standing and doing what you love without prioritizing being “internet famous.”
3:30 p.m. My assistant, Christian Barberena, arrives at my house and we chill in the backyard, going over our next two weeks of work and divvying up tasks. Usually, my team handles internet shopping and sourcing items in stores. Then, I’ll primarily handle things that are being custom-made by designers.
5:45 p.m. I realize I’m about 15 minutes late for a Netflix virtual screening event for “Halston,” and Chris and I tune in to watch. It’s a must-see. Based on what I’ve read about him, it was well-cast — and it’s visually quite stunning.
Today in Business
8 a.m. I awake with a bit of anxiety, because I’ve been trying to figure out how to seamlessly do some construction on the Black Owned Everything site without alarming our followers. I want it to have much more storytelling, engage more Black photographers and graphic designers, and make it more than just a generic e-commerce space. I also have to find an entry-level social media manager to help make the Instagram account more robust while the site is down.
The Rooftop by JG with Liza Vassell, the founder of Brooklyn PR. We’re both late but make it just in time to not lose our table. It’s our first time connecting outside of work and we spent an hour and a half stuffing our faces, discussing our experiences being Black women making our own way, and investing in and supporting each other.
6:30p.m. Today was one of those weird days — productive, yet somehow I was left feeling like I didn’t quite do enough. I start checking out mentally by watching trash TV.
8:30 a.m. My makeup artist, Leah Darcy Pike, arrives to help me get ready for a portrait for this column. I decided to throw on an aqua blue look from my Macy’s collection.
1:17 p.m. I call my product development consultant and deliver the good news that I love our new Black Owned Everything candle sample. It’s kind of woody and sort of like patchouli, with these other weird notes. We also discuss possible product ideas we could launch for Juneteenth, like a summer travel kit.
2:05 p.m. I open my garage in an attempt to organize it, then close it back. It’s filled with jewelry, clothes from past photo shoots, my personal wardrobe overflow, B.O.E. stuff … it’s gotten a little crazy.
3 p.m. It’s Chris’s birthday, so I run out and grab a cake from Sweet Lady Jane and we indulge for just a moment.
4:15 p.m. I go to a mall in Sherman Oaks to pick up monochromatic sneakers for my weekend shoot with Karol G. I love color-blocking, particularly red shoes and red bags.
Sally Hemings. I’m currently obsessed with the narratives of slaves. The varied experiences never cease to amaze me. I keep them etched in my brain as a reminder of how resilient we really are as a people.
8:33 a.m. I’m cracking open the week’s packages one by one. There are 20 to 30 — a combination of gifts, things from Black-owned businesses that they want us to review, and some celeb stuff. For the most part, I try to have some stuff go to my office, but since we’re blurring lines with the pandemic, I’ve just been having it come straight to one place.
10:45 a.m. Head out to meet Chris so we can set up a rack for Karol G before heading into a fitting. The first thing I usually try to do with fittings is see what makes the client’s face light up, then I’ll start with those things that they’re most excited about. Typically, the trickiest part is the alterations because you want to make sure they hold up and last, but not damage the garment. On this day, everything went smoothly.
5:33 p.m. After grabbing a bowl of fried tofu with veggies and grits at Souley Vegan, I head to my office to work on a new project with Chris. We’re trying to start a virtual reality character for the site. She’ll be dressed in the Black-owned brands and you can follow her day-to-day.
8 p.m. We realize we should probably stop working and head home to pack for a shoot in San Francisco. When I fly, I have to have my travel blanket (right now, it’s Burberry), my memory foam neck pillow and a sleep mask — I can never stay awake on a plane, even if it’s just an hourlong flight.
A decade ago, after a rained-out Thanksgiving desert camping trip with our five kids, my wife, Kristin, and I headed to the nearest available lodging, the now-shuttered Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Watching our brood eat their Thanksgiving meal as cigarette smoke and slot-machine clamor wafted over their cheeseburgers, Kristin and I locked eyes with an unspoken message: We are the world’s worst parents.
We have avoided Las Vegas with the kids since then, but an aborted drive to slushy Aspen this April with three of our heirs caused us to pause in Vegas. At the time, the city was just awakening from its Covid slumber, with mandatory masks and limited capacity in most indoor spaces, traffic so light that cars were drag-racing down the normally packed Strip, and a lingering, troubling question over the whole place: Will this reopening really be safe?
But extraordinary things have been happening during this slumber, and while we were only going to spend one night there, we had so much fun that we ended up staying four. At first we spent most of our time in the relative safety of the outdoors, but then we started to relax along with the rest of the city, drowning our hands beneath the ubiquitous liquid sanitizer dispensers, masking up and heading indoors.
I knew things had shifted in Sin City when, while maneuvering the minivan through some seemingly dicey neighborhood between Downtown and the Strip, I noted on the back alley wall of a hair salon a striking mural depicting the cult outsider artist Henry Darger’s seven Vivian Girl warriors in their trademark yellow dresses. What were the Vivian Girls doing here?
Makers & Finders — and wandered along Spring Mountain Road, the hub of the city’s Chinatown, rapidly expanding westward. In the midcentury mecca of East Fremont Street, a $350 million investment by the tech titan Tony Hsieh, who died last year, has produced a boulevard of fantastical art installations, restored buildings and a sculptural playground surrounded by stacked shipping containers converted to boutiques and cafes, all guarded by a giant, fire-spewing, steel praying mantis.
“Vegas is going through a cultural renaissance,” a former member of the city’s Arts Commission, Brian “Paco” Alvarez, told me in a recent telephone interview. “A lot of the local culture that comes out of a city with two million unusually creative people didn’t stop during the pandemic.”
Area15, which opened in February in a mysterious, airport-hanger-size, windowless building two miles west of the Strip. Imagine an urban Burning Man mall (indeed, many of the sculptures and installations came from the annual arts festival held in northern Nevada), with some dozen tenants providing everything from virtual reality trips to nonvirtual ax throwing, accompanied by Day-Glo color schemes, electronic music, giant interactive art installations and guests flying overhead on seats attached to ceiling rails. Face masks are currently only mandatory in Area15 for self-identified unvaccinated people, though some of the attractions within still require face masks for everyone. Everywhere, we encountered the constant presence of cleaning attendants spraying and wiping surfaces.
Blue Man Group, who was bringing his creative magic to Area15 in the form of a “Psychedelic Art House Meets Carnival Funhouse” called Wink World (adult tickets start at $18). Wink World is centered around six rooms with infinity mirror boxes reflecting Slinkys, plasma balls, fan spinners, Hoberman Spheres and ribbons dancing to an ethereal soundtrack of electronic music, rhythmic chanting and heavy breathing.
“I worked on these installations for six years in my living room in New York,” Mr. Wink told me. “I was trying to evoke psychedelic experiences without medicine.”
My unmedicated children were transfixed, as if these familiar toys frolicking into eternity were totems to their own personal nirvanas. I’ve never seen them stand so still in front of an art exhibit.
Omega Mart (adult admissions start at $45, face mask and temperature check mandatory), the biggest attraction in the complex, lines one side of the complex’s atrium and seemed — at first — to provide a banal respite from Area15’s sensory overload. Along the sale aisles I found Nut Free Salted Peanuts, Gut Monkey Ginger Ale and cans of Camels Implied Chicken Sop.
Meow Wolf (the name derived from pulling two random words from a hat during their first meeting), Omega Mart is an amalgamation of some 325 artists’ creations tied together by disparate overlapping story lines which one can follow — or not.
For a short time, I tracked the story of the takeover of Omega Mart’s corporate headquarters by a hilariously manipulative New Agey daughter, and then got sidelined into the tale of a teen herbalist leading a rebellion to something else. I have no idea what I experienced other than that Brian Eno composed the music to one of the installations. None of my kids could explain what they experienced either, other than something mind-expanding. If it wasn’t for dinner, we might still be in there.
Raku. Step behind an understated white backlit sign and you enter an aged wood interior of an intimate restaurant that you might find off a Kyoto alley. We slid into the family-style tables behind the main dining room and commenced to feast. There’s a $100 tasting menu if you are feeling adult, but my tribe ordered cream-like tofu with dried fish, foie gras skewers and a dozen other items.
Chinatown became our go-to-spot for snacks and boba tea between adventures. A favorite spot became Pho 90, a low-key Vietnamese cafe with outstanding noodle dishes and exquisitely layered banh mi sandwiches for picnics in the wild.
Red Rock Canyon, 17 miles west of the Strip, is like walking into a Road Runner cartoon with a Technicolor ballet of clashing tectonic formations. We grabbed our admittedly reluctant brood on a 2.4-mile, round-trip hike on the Keystone Thrust Trail through a series of gullies until we emerged above epic white limestone cliffs jutting through the ocher-colored mountains. Here we had our Vietnamese picnic overlooking the monolithic casinos in the distance.
Rail Explorers has set up rail bike tours on the abandoned tracks leading to the Hoover Dam construction site. We booked a sunset tour (from $85 to $150 for a tandem quad bike). After some quick instruction, we, along with three dozen other visitors, climbed into an 800-pound, four-person Korean-made bike rig and, giving the group ahead of us a three-minute head start for some space, started peddling.
Our route was along four miles of desert track gently sloping into a narrowing canyon pass. As we effortlessly peddled at 10 miles per hour, we noticed that the spikes holding down the railroad ties were often crooked or missing. “I bet these were all driven in by hand,” my teenage son, Cody, a history buff, noted.
In the enveloping dusk, we glimpsed shadows moving along the sagebrush: bighorn sheep, goats and other critters emerging for their nocturnal wanderings. But the most surreal sight was at the end of the ride, where a giant backlit sign for a truck stop casino appeared over a desert butte — Vegas was beckoning us back, but now we welcomed the summons. Here we were, peddling into the sunset, feeling more athletic, cool and (gasp!) enlightened than when we first rolled into Vegas four days ago. Oh what good parents we were!
“The moniker of ‘Sin City’ is totally wrong,” Mr. Alvarez told me, “if you know where to look.”
A few months ago, there was widespread talk about the possibility of a “fourth wave” of Covid-19 in the U.S. this spring. Many states were relaxing restrictions, and many Americans, tired of sitting at home, were beginning to expose themselves to greater Covid risk even though they weren’t yet vaccinated.
Fortunately, however, the fourth wave has not arrived.
Cases and hospitalizations rose only modestly in late March and early April, and they have since begun falling again. Deaths have not risen in months.
natural immunity by already having had Covid. The vaccination program expanded rapidly. And even as some Americans behaved recklessly, others continued to wear masks indoors. (Outdoor masks, as regular Morning readers know by now, seem to make little difference in most circumstances).
by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 13 percent of adults said they would definitely not get a shot; 6 percent said they would do so only if required by their employer, their school or another group; and 15 percent said they were waiting to see how the vaccines affected others.
(Related: A new Times story focuses on the millions of Americans who say they are open to getting the vaccine but have not yet managed to do so.)
politically conservative communities, for the most part — are also hesitant about the vaccine. So long as a large number of Americans over 40 remain unvaccinated, Covid deaths are unlikely to fall near zero anytime soon.
… especially worldwide
The second major Covid problem is outside the U.S.: Vaccination rates remain extremely low in most of the world, especially in poorer countries.
Worldwide, there are still some encouraging signs. Global cases have been falling over the past two weeks. Africa and much of Asia continue to report low levels of Covid, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Even in India, the site of a dire outbreak, caseloads have declined slightly in the past few days.
has been horrific. Cases have also been rising in Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. Brazil and much of South America are struggling, too. All of these countries serve as reminders that the world remains vulnerable to new waves.
The biggest Covid issue for the rest of 2021 is probably the speed of vaccinations in lower-income countries. It will determine both the future death toll and the likelihood that dangerous new variants take hold, in all countries. Roughly 90 percent of the world’s population has not yet received a shot.
Peggy Noonan argues. It will also hurt Republican electoral prospects, says Commentary’s Noah Rothman.
Cheney’s focus on Trump’s flaws, rather than on Democrats, puts her out of step with the rest of her party’s leadership, Eliana Johnson counters in Politico.
“It is because she is such a partisan, conservative Republican that her dissent is so significant,” New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait has written. But Maureen Dowd argues that Cheney deserves some blame for Republicans’ comfort with lies.
where you can find “bulk bins of fish balls, live lobsters brooding in blue tanks, a library of tofu.”
Dunbar’s number: Can you have more than 150 friends?
A Times classic: Why songs of the summer sound the same (and you may want to turn up the volume).
Lives Lived: Pat Bond was a foundational figure in the B.D.S.M. community. Two people showed up for the first meeting of the Eulenspiegel Society, which Bond started in the early 1970s; membership eventually grew to more than a thousand. He died at 94.
letter-of-recommendation feature. And he explains why you might like them, too. “The check mark is more important than whatever comes of the daily work whose completion you’re marking,” he argues. “The first represents actual living; the second, merely a life.”
Related: Atul Gawande’s 2007 piece in The New Yorker on the power of checklists. — Claire Moses, a Morning writer
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Here are recipes, including namoura, a syrup-soaked Lebanese cake.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pack of cards (four letters).
If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. Nineteen years ago today, Jimmy Carter became the first U.S. president, in or out of office, to visit Cuba since the 1959 revolution. He delivered part of his address in Spanish, The Times reported.
You can see today’s print front page here.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Liz Cheney. On “The Argument,” a debate over D.C. statehood.
At the H Mart on Broadway at 110th Street in Manhattan, the lights are bright on the singo pears, round as apples and kept snug in white mesh, so their skin won’t bruise. Here are radishes in hot pink and winter white, gnarled ginseng grown in Wisconsin, broad perilla leaves with notched edges, and almost every kind of Asian green: yu choy, bok choy, ong choy, hon choy, aa choy, wawa choy, gai lan, sook got.
The theme is abundance — chiles from fat little thumbs to witchy fingers, bulk bins of fish balls, live lobsters brooding in blue tanks, a library of tofu. Cuckoo rice cookers gleam from the shelves like a showroom of Aston Martins. Customers fill baskets with wands of lemongrass, dried silvery anchovies, shrimp chips and Wagyu beef sliced into delicate petals.
For decades in America, this kind of shopping was a pilgrimage. Asian-Americans couldn’t just pop into the local Kroger or Piggly Wiggly for a bottle of fish sauce. To make the foods of their heritage, they often had to seek out the lone Asian grocery in town, which was salvation — even if cramped and dingy, with scuffed linoleum underfoot and bags of rice slumped in a corner.
1.5 percent of the American population was of Asian descent.
beaten to death in Detroit by two white autoworkers who were reportedly angered by the success of the Japanese car industry. Asian-Americans, a disparate group of many origins that had historically not been recognized as a political force, came together to condemn the killing and speak in a collective voice.
Today, as they again confront hate-fueled violence, Asian-Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, numbering more than 22 million, nearly 7 percent of the total population. And there are 102 H Marts across the land, with vast refrigerated cases devoted to kimchi and banchan, the side dishes essential to any Korean meal. In 2020, the company reported $1.5 billion in sales. Later this year, it’s set to open its largest outpost yet, in a space in Orlando, Fla., that is nearly the size of four football fields.
And H Mart has competition: Other grocery chains that specialize in ingredients from Asia include Patel Brothers (Patel Bros, to fans), founded in Chicago; and, headquartered in California, Mitsuwa Marketplace and 99 Ranch Market — or Ranch 99, as Chinese speakers sometimes call it. They’re part of a so-called ethnic or international supermarket sector estimated to be worth $46.1 billion, a small but growing percentage of the more than $653 billion American grocery industry.
Japanese Breakfast, in her new memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” published last month. The book begins with her standing in front of the banchan refrigerators, mourning the death of her Korean-born mother. “We’re all searching for a piece of home, or a piece of ourselves.”
As the 20th-century philosopher Lin Yutang wrote, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”
For an immigrant, cooking can be a way to anchor yourself in a world suddenly askew. There is no end to the lengths some might go to taste once more that birthday spoonful of Korean miyeok guk, a soup dense with seaweed, slippery on the tongue, or the faintly bitter undertow of beef bile in Laotian laap diip (raw beef salad).
When Vilailuck Teigen — the co-author, with Garrett Snyder, of “The Pepper Thai Cookbook,” out in April — was a young mother in western Utah in the 1980s, she ordered 50-pound bags of rice by mail and drove 150 miles to Salt Lake City to buy chiles. She had no mortar and pestle, so she crushed spices with the bottom of a fish-sauce bottle.
Snackboxe Bistro in Atlanta, was a child in a small town in east-central Alabama, where her family settled after fleeing Laos as refugees. They fermented their own fish sauce, and her father made a weekly trek to Atlanta to pick up lemongrass and galangal at the international farmers’ market.
The essayist Jay Caspian Kang has described Americans of Asian descent as “the loneliest Americans.” Even after the government eased restrictions on immigration from Asia in 1965, being an Asian-American outside major cities often meant living in isolation — the only Asian family in town, the only Asian child at school. A grocery store could be a lifeline.
When the writer Jenny Han, 40, was growing up in Richmond, Va., in the ’90s, her family shopped at the hole-in-the-wall Oriental Market, run by a woman at their church. It was the one place where they could load up on toasted sesame oil and rent VHS tapes of Korean dramas, waiting to pounce when someone returned a missing episode.
A few states away, the future YouTube cooking star Emily Kim — better known as Maangchi — was newly arrived in Columbia, Mo., with a stash of meju, bricks of dried soybean paste, hidden at the bottom of her bag. She was worried that in her new American home she wouldn’t be able to find such essentials.
Then she stumbled on a tiny shop, also called Oriental Market. One day the Korean woman at the counter invited her to stay for a bowl of soup her husband had just made.
“She was my friend,” Maangchi recalled.
Kim’s Convenience” might say, a sneak attack. Once Brian Kwon entered the office, he never left. “My father called it his ‘golden plan,’ after the fact,” he said ruefully. He is now a co-president, alongside his mother and his sister, Stacey, 33. (His father is the chief executive.)
For many non-Asian customers, H Mart is itself a sneak attack. On their first visit, they’re not actually looking for Asian ingredients; customer data shows that they’re drawn instead to the variety and freshness of more familiar produce, seafood and meat. Only later do they start examining bags of Jolly Pong, a sweet puffed-wheat snack, and red-foil-capped bottles of Yakult — a fermented milk drink that sold out after it appeared in Ms. Han’s best-selling novel-turned-movie “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
To be welcoming to non-Koreans, H Mart puts up signs in English. At the same time, the younger Mr. Kwon said, “We don’t want to be the gentrified store.” So while some non-Asians recoil from the tanks of lobsters, the Kwons are committed to offering live seafood.
Sunday Family Hospitality Group, in San Francisco, remembers the H Mart of his youth in New Jersey as “just the Korean store” — a sanctuary for his parents, recent immigrants still not at ease in English. Everyone spoke Korean, and all that banchan was a relief: His mother would pack them in her cart for dinner, then pretend she’d made them herself.
Later, as a teenager, he started seeing his Chinese- and Filipino-American friends there, too, and then his non-Asian friends. Spurred by postings on social media, young patrons would line up to buy the latest snack sensation — “the snack aisle is notorious,” Mr. Hong said — like Haitai honey butter chips and Xiao Mei boba ice cream bars. (The current craze: Orion chocolate-churro-flavored snacks that look like baby turtles.)
In “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown,” a new cookbook by the chef Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, Mr. Jew, 41, recalls Sunday mornings in San Francisco with his ying ying (paternal grandmother in Cantonese), taking three bus transfers to traverse the city, on a mission for fresh chicken — sometimes slaughtered on the spot — and ingredients like pea shoots and lotus leaves.
He still prefers “that Old World kind of shopping,” he said, from independent vendors, each with his own specialties and occasional grouchiness and eccentricities. But he knows that the proliferation of supermarkets like H Mart and 99 Ranch makes it easier for newcomers to Asian food to recreate his recipes.
“Access to those ingredients leads to a deeper understanding of the cuisine,” he said. “And that in turn can become a deeper understanding of a community and a culture.”
Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta, feels that something is lost when you buy paneer and grass-fed ghee at a Whole Foods Market. You miss the cultural immersion, he says, “getting a dunk and having horizons broadened.”
“An Indian grocery is not just a convenience — it’s a temple,” he said. “You’re feeding the soul. Come in and pick up on the energy.”
In the TV special “Luda Can’t Cook,” which premiered in February, Mr. Irani takes the rapper Ludacris to Cherians, an Indian supermarket in Atlanta. Once Mr. Irani had to scrounge for spices like cumin and turmeric at health food stores; now, surrounded by burlap sacks stuffed with cardamom pods and dried green mango, he tells Ludacris, “This is my house.”
Min Jin Lee, 52, remembers how important H Mart was to people working in Manhattan’s Koreatown in the ’80s, when it was still called Han Ah Reum and “tiny, with almost no place to negotiate yourself through the aisles,” she said. (It has since moved across West 32nd Street to a larger space.) Her parents ran a jewelry wholesale business around the corner, and relied on the store for a cheap but substantial dosirak (lunch box) that came with cups of soup and rice.
She sees the modern incarnation of the store as a boon for second- and third-generation Korean Americans, including thousands of Korean-born adoptees raised by white American parents, who “want to find some sort of connection to the food of their families,” she said. “There aren’t gatekeepers to say who’s in or who’s out.”
BTS — anti-Asian sentiment is growing. With visibility comes risk.
For Ms. Lee, this makes H Mart a comfort. “I like going there because I feel good there,” she said. “In the context of hatred against my community, to see part of my culture being valued — it’s exceptional.”
After graduating from a Lubavitcher Yeshiva high school in Crown Heights, he attended Brooklyn College, briefly sold mink stoles, and ran a bungalow colony in the Catskills, where he opened a deli.
It was after he opened his Manhattan restaurant, he said in one of many versions of the story, that “a Jewish hippie” tipped him to the potential of tofu. “The Book of Tofu” (1979), by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, became his new bible.
Mr. Mintz’s first marriage ended in divorce (“Bean curd wasn’t exciting to her,” he told The Baltimore Jewish Times in 1984). In 1984 he married Rachel Avalagon, who died this year. He is survived by their son, Ethan.
Mr. Mintz often sought guidance from Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the venerable leader of the Lubavitcher Hasidic movement, to whom he had been introduced by his brother, Isaac Gershon Mintz. David Mintz would write daily $1,000 checks to Rabbi Schneerson’s philanthropies, according to COLLive, an Orthodox news site. (He was a founder of the congregation Chabad of Tenafly.)
“Whenever I met with the rebbe I would mention what I was doing, and he would say to me: ‘You have to have faith. If you have faith in God, you can do wonders,’” Mr. Mintz said in an interview with Jewish Educational Media in 2013.
Late in the 1970s he had to close Mintz’s Buffet, his restaurant on Third Avenue, because the block was being razed to build Trump Plaza. When he was offered the option to transplant his restaurant to the Upper West Side, he sought Rabbi Schneerson’s guidance. The rabbi’s secretary, Rabbi Leibel Groner, called him back, Mr. Mintz recalled, and said: “Get a pencil and paper and write it down. This is very important.”
Want to get The Morning by email? Here’s the sign-up.
Good morning. How should you think about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine? We explain.
Many Americans are worried that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine is an inferior product that may not be worth getting. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota recently told The Washington Post that he was now seeing not only “vaccine hesitancy” but also “the potential for brand hesitancy.”
The perception stems from the headline rates of effectiveness of the three vaccines: 72 percent for Johnson & Johnson, compared with 94 percent for Moderna and 95 percent for Pfizer. But those headline rates can be misleading in a few ways.
The most important measure — whether the vaccine prevents serious illness — shows the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be equally effective as the other two. All work for nearly 100 percent of people. The picture is murkier for mild cases, but they are not particularly worrisome.
Today, I want to unpack the statistics about the three vaccines and explain why the current perception is a problem.
as Schaffner recounted to my colleague Denise Grady. “The virus is bad.”
Mild Covid means victory
The headline effectiveness numbers — like 72 percent — describe a vaccine’s ability to prevent all infections from this coronavirus, known as SARS-Cov-2. But preventing all infections is less important than it may sound. The world is not going to eliminate SARS-Cov-2 anytime soon. Coronaviruses circulate all the time, causing the common cold and other manageable illnesses.
The trouble with this virus is its lethality. It has killed 15 times as many Americans as an average flu season. Turning Covid into something more like a mild flu or common cold means victory over the pandemic.
All three vaccines being used in the U.S. are accomplishing that goal. In the research trials, none of the people who received a vaccine died of Covid. And after the vaccines had taken full effect, none were hospitalized, either.
In the real world, the vaccines won’t achieve quite as stellar outcomes. Still, the results are excellent — and equally excellent across the three, as Dr. Cody Meissner of the Tufts School of Medicine said during a recent F.D.A. meeting.
Like running into the wind
But why doesn’t Johnson & Johnson appear to be as good at preventing mild illness?
There are a few possible answers. For one, Johnson & Johnson’s research trials seem to have had a greater degree of difficulty.They occurred later than Moderna’s or Pfizer’s — after one of the virus variants had spread more widely. The variant appears to cause a greater number of mild Covid cases among vaccinated people than the original virus.
Second, Johnson & Johnson is currently only one shot, while Moderna and Pfizer are two shots. That happened mostly because of how strong the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is. Initial testing showed it to deliver impressive levels of immunity after only one shot, while the others required a booster, as Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, explained to me.
The truth is that all of the vaccines seem to provide significant protection after a single shot. (Look at Britain, which is not rushing to give second shots and where cases and deaths continue to plummet.) Similarly, all three vaccines may benefit from a second shot.
I recognize that may make some people anxious about getting the single Johnson & Johnson shot, but it shouldn’t. If further data suggest that a second Johnson & Johnson shot would help, regulators can change their recommendation. Regardless, follow-up Covid shots may be normal in the future.
What’s the bottom line? A single Johnson & Johnson shot may indeed allow a somewhat larger number of mild Covid cases than two shots of Moderna or Pfizer. It’s hard to be sure. And it isn’t very important.
the governor said, “and would just once again encourage Iowans, when you get the opportunity, please take advantage of it.”
THE LATEST NEWS
Soon the wind will pay the bills.
From Opinion: A pandemic baby boom? More like a baby bust.
Lives Lived: The Japanese artist Toko Shinoda’s fluid, elegant work owed much to calligraphy, but she also complemented its ancient serenity with the influence of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. She died at 107.
would no longer publish six of his lesser-known books because they contained offensive imagery. The decision ignited a debate over how an author’s works should be changed — if at all — to reflect evolving attitudes.
The move is part of an effort led by librarians and scholars to re-evaluate children’s classics in recent decades. Some libraries have withdrawn editions of illustrated series like “Tintin” and “Babar” for portraying nonwhite characters as savages. The Oompa Loompas in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” were originally dark-skinned pygmies from Africa, until Roald Dahl revised his work in the 1970s in response to criticism from the N.A.A.C.P.
“Children’s publishers and literary estates are trying to walk a delicate line by preserving an author’s legacy, while recognizing and rejecting aspects of a writer’s work that are out of step with current social and cultural values,” The Times’s Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris write. Read their story here.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
in these dumplings.
What to Watch
“25 Years of Rent: Measured in Love” is a virtual fund-raiser, tribute and a reminder that the musical remains inspiring in hard times. You can watch it through Saturday.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Because of (five letters).
If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. When did you know the pandemic would change your life? The Times wants to hear your story.
You can see today’s print front page here.
Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the state of the pandemic. On “Sway,” Stacey Abrams discusses voting rights.