Beloved Hadley Korean Restaurant Gohyang to close its doors this week; owner Hyunjeong Kim to head back to Korea for family issues



Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2015

HADLEY — Its name means “hometown,” but the restaurant that has been a home away from home for its owner could not keep her from a family crisis in her native land.

Hyunjeong Kim, owner of the Gohyang Korean Restaurant on Route 9, recently learned that both her husband’s parents are ill and she will return to Seoul, South Korea, to help her husband through this difficult time. Her own father died in June, leaving her mother in South Korea also in need of company.

The restaurant will close for good Sunday. Loyal customers and staff who have come to rely on Gohyang for authentic Korean food and friendly atmosphere for decades are already feeling its loss.

“I gave my heart and mind to my customers, and my customers could sense this,” Kim wrote in a letter to the Gazette last week. “They were not my patrons, but my friends.”

On a busy night last week, waitress Ellen Lee, known at the restaurant by her Korean name Hye Mi, hustled through the restaurant carrying plates and bowls of hot food.

One of her hands — her dominant hand — was covered in a wrist splint. Her doctor said she shouldn’t be moving it after an accident she had two weeks earlier, but Lee said she had to come in to support Kim in her final days.

“I couldn’t let myself live with the fact of not seeing her,” Lee said during a break. “I told her ‘I’m going to come back,’ so I did.”

Surrounding the few tables are Polaroid photos of customers from years ago. Higher up on the walls are newer photos of signatures and names. Several years ago, the walls were covered in graffiti from customers leaving messages for the owners. Kim had them painted over because there was no more space, but she took photos of them all to commemorate them.

“Best food in the Valley! I’ll be back...,” read one. “Thank you for the many delicious meals!” read another. Customers listed the colleges they attended as well as their graduation years.

On one side of the restaurant is a Korean grocery store selling ingredients for the foods served in the restaurant. On the other side is the karaoke room, where mostly college students gather to sing songs on the weekends.

Lee is not Korean herself — her mother is half Vietnamese, half Italian and her father is from Hong Kong — but she has visited South Korea four times in the past two years. A junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Lee studies public health and speaks six languages fluently, including Korean, as well as a little Italian.

Kim hired Lee on the spot after learning her language background two years ago, Lee said. The two of them joke with each other in Korean; Lee calls Kim “big sister” or “my queen,” while Kim responds by calling Lee “princess.”

“We’re not just co-workers, we’re family,” Lee said.

Lee grew up in Boston and has sampled Korean food extensively during her visits to that country. She likes that Gohyang’s chefs are from Korea, which she believes makes a difference with the quality of the food, she said.

“That’s one thing I’m proud of when I recommend this place to someone — it’s real Korean,” she said.

When she heard the restaurant would be closing, she was taken aback by the sudden news. She said she felt a sense of withdrawal.

“I thought this place was always going to be here and that I’d bring my children here,” she said.

Geani Kim, no relation to the restaurant owner, came to the area from Los Angeles with her husband. She found Gohyang lived up to the great Asian restaurants she was used to in California.

“You can taste that the food is made with love,” Geani Kim said. “You can tell that they care.”

She has been coming to the restaurant for six years and said she was devastated to learn of its closing. Customers learning the news have been hit just as hard, she said.

“Some customers broke out in tears,” Geani Kim said. “Some had brought their kids since they were little and struggling through using the chopsticks, and now they are entering high school.”

Customers Heidi Salz of Northampton and David Gowler of Holyoke said they loved coming to Gohyang and were sorry to see the place close.

Eating noodles in a seafood broth and a spicy octopus stir fry respectively, Salz and Gowler said they come for the excellent food.

“Anything that adds to the cultural diversity of our area is very valuable, so to lose that is a big loss,” Gowler said.

Salz said she will miss the pickled vegetables that come as sides to each dish, a Korean specialty.

Dressed in an elegant gown, restaurant owner Kim emerged from the kitchen. She said she was grateful to her customers for the success of her business, even during the economic downturn.

Kim came to Amherst in 2000 when her husband attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst to pursue a doctorate in sport management.

With limited English skills, she found work under Chong Yol and Ji Kim, also no relation, at Gohyang. By 2004, she took over the business from her predecessors when they retired.

In 2007, her husband was offered work at a university in South Korea as a sports marketing professor, and the family decided he should pursue that offer. Their children remained in America with Kim to pursue an American education. Now 20 and 18, Kim’s children attend Harvard and Williston Northampton School.

They will remain when their mother returns to South Korea. Meanwhile, Kim has invited her customers to contact her while she’s in Korea at hyunkim@hotmail.com.

She said she is open to the idea of eventually returning to the area and starting a restaurant again. However, her father also left her some land in Korea, and asked that she and her mother start a restaurant on it. Kim’s mother ran a successful Korean restaurant for 30 years, Kim said.

The future of the Gohyang building is now in the hands of Ji and Chong Yol Kim, the former restaurant owners who still own the building. Hyunjeong Kim said she was unable to get a lease extension from her former employers to sell the business, but Ji Kim said they were only asked about a six-month extension, which expires this month.

Meanwhile, Ji Kim saids she plans to have the building cleaned up to get it ready for another tenant, which she hopes might be another Korean restaurant.

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at deisen@gazettenet.com.


 


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