|Warm slice of RPís past to fade away Dec. 15
Friendly Kitchen owners ready to move on after 30 years of creating family atmosphere in restaurant
It’s true. The Friendly Kitchen on Southwest Boulevard in Rohnert Park will be closing Dec. 15.
Along with it dies a warm slice of the city’s past: A genuine mom-and-pop restaurant, perhaps a victim of the current onslaught of fast-food franchise eating places burying traditions of the past with identical menus and pre-packaged meals and snacks.
Un Moo and his wife, Ok Jin Shin, both from Seoul, South Korea, the capital city, were college students when they met. He graduated, worked in the import-export business and learned about computers.
Emigrated to San Francisco
They married, and urged by relatives in San Francisco, emigrated here where Un Moo soon got work in the city’s burgeoning computer industry. He also earned an MBA at Golden Gate University in SF. They have a son, Victor, now 40, who also earned a college degree and lives in Hayward with his family and teaches school. The Friendly Kitchen has a large picture of their granddaughter on the restaurant wall.
Both Un Moo and Ok Jin Shin later tired of the big city and wanted a smaller city with educational opportunities, and he discovered Sonoma County and Rohnert Park.
Un Moo saw an opportunity
He looked for work here and lunched in the Friendly Kitchen where he found out the owner wanted to leave and was looking for someone to take over the restaurant.
“I didn’t know anything about cooking but saw this opportunity,” he said. “We decided to take it over. The owners gave me three weeks of instruction on cooking, recipes and working the stoves, toasters, frying pans and coffee maker. Jin already had homemaking skills and we learned how to work six days a week, eight or more hours each day.”
This was 30 years ago, and the restaurant had just moved from its former location further east on Southwest Boulevard. This was in a courtyard near an Exchange Bank and the RP post office. A few doors away was the Clarion weekly newspaper, where this writer was editor and frequently ate here and also when they moved to their present location. In fact, Jin Shin remembered me and my bacon and eggs luncheons. The woman has a terrific memory.
Un Moo has a great memory, too. “I’ll be retiring in a way but I’m also feeling sad,” he said. “Our customers, I consider, as a big family.
“We’ve gotten to know so many people, they’re all our friends and we’re going to miss them. They come from Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol and many farms in the area just to eat breakfast or lunch with us. I recognize them all when they come back.”
Un Moo, now 73, does not want to find another restaurant. “Six days a week, at least eight hours a day for 30 years. I’ve had enough.”
“I want to go to Sonoma State University and take more computer classes so I can catch up on all the changes computers have built in over the years. Our son, Victor, he’s an SSU grad and knows the campus well.”
“It’s sort of a semi-retirement.” Ok Jin Shin, now 56, nodded agreement. “I’ll surely miss all the people we have in our restaurant family. It’s a change of life but I go where he goes. Our son and granddaughter both agree.”
The building where they’re located belongs to Veale Investments, and they decided not to renew the Friendly Kitchen’s lease, for they have other plans for the area. The restaurant’s phone number is 795-0661.
Those are the raw mechanics of the closure.
But the real story is wrapped in nostalgia and the poignant disappearance (Dec. 15) of an independent mom-and-pop restaurant from a street that once was Rohnert Park’s Main Street.
“I’m very happy retiring from the restaurant but also very sad because I’ll be missing all our friends from over the years,” said Un Moo. (They both speak impeccable English they learned in Seoul schools). “But I’m looking forward to learning more about computers at SSU.”