By Angela Hatcher, For The Miami Student
Seven thousand, six hundred and forty-two miles. That’s how far Juan Lin, or Yvonne as she prefers to go by, is from her
hometown in China.
“Seafood,” she said “That’s what Fujian reminds me of.”
As she stands behind the take out counter at Phan Shin, scribbling a customer’s order on her notepad, she has nothing but a
big smile on her face.
She laughs with the customers and jokes with them, lighting up the room as she turns to give the order to the kitchen.
You’d never guess that she’s the owner of Phan Shin. She doesn’t hide in an office — she’s the face of the restaurant. She works in tandem with her other employees, not afraid to do the little jobs, always smiling.
“I don’t consider myself a great businessman, but I do love people, I love talking, meeting new people, just yakking my way … my husband is the opposite, though,” she said. “That’s why he’s back in the kitchen and I’m up front. We complement each other, that’s why we work so well as a team.”
Lin came to the United States from Fujian when she was 10 years old, living first in New York City.
She didn’t always plan to own a business.
“My goal was to finish college and find an office job, sit in a desk — what do you call those?” she asked. “A stable job.”
She completed three semesters of college at the University of Toronto.
Her father, a construction worker, and her mother, a factory/supermarket worker, didn’t want her to have a job with a lot of physical labor. They wanted her job to be simple and consistent.
“But then it all changed when I met my husband,” she said.
She met John Yang in New York through one of her cousins. Yang worked in his family’s restaurants from a young age. He was familiar with the business
The two began working at a family restaurant in Kentucky. A friend of theirs was planning to buy Phan Shin and told the two about it. Their friend decided against it.
Lin and Yang made the journey to Oxford, Ohio to take a look at the restaurant.
All it took was one look.
“It clicked,” she said. “We paid the down payment right there, even though we only looked at it for a day.”
Lin and Yang bought Phan Shin in April 2008.
“I believe in fate,” she said. “And this … was meant to be.”
And with that, Lin heads off to the counter to check on a customer’s order, smiling the whole way there.
Michelle Patterson grew up right next to Princeton University in Montgomery Township, New Jersey. There was a diner off campus that always had a line wrapped around the corner with dozens of people ready for classic diner food. It wasn’t anything special.
Both she and her husband Michael grew up on the comfort food that East Coast diners had to offer.
They were shocked when they arrived in Oxford and found not a single diner-style restaurant.
The Pattersons were living the suit and tie, 9-to-5 life. Thirteen years ago, Michael’s corporate job took him to Cincinnati. They moved to Oxford, and Michael commuted everyday — he didn’t mind the drive.
But his corporate job? He didn’t like it.
Michael had been been working in the corporate world for nearly a decade. He wasn’t passionate about his job.
He began to think about what he wanted to do with his life, what would make him happy. He told Michelle that he wanted to quit his job.
The Uptown Bakery and Café was a little hole in the wall on High Street. It was the place where Michael and Michelle first ate when they came to Oxford. The duo noticed a “for sale” sign hanging in the window. Michael wanted to buy The Uptown Bakery and Café.
“And that’s exactly what happened,” Michelle said.
Michael and Michelle quit their jobs. The dream had to be a team effort.
“Not one of us could do it, two of us had to do it,” she said.
The Pattersons purchased the café in December 2003 and opened in January 2004. They were there for about six years.
But when Stewart Square was built, the owner of the commercial property kept asking them to move into that space.
“We were afraid at first,” Michelle said. “Our first place was a shoebox that always had a line wrapping around the corner. This place was much bigger. We thought we would go bankrupt!”
They took a leap of faith and bought the property in 2009. The move paid off — they still have a line of hungry customers, ready to eat.
Today, their 16-year-old son works on Saturdays and Sundays. Their 9- and 11-year-old daughters come in and bus occasionally. Michelle’s mom even helps do payroll. It is, in every sense, a family restaurant.
“What separates us from the other restaurants that are not family-owned is that Michael and I are always here, genuinely happy when we see our regulars who wait for an hour to come inside and eat and say hi to us,” she said.
Their menu is littered with classic diner items: monte cristos, ham and cheese sandwiches and tuna melts.
“My personal favorite is the eggs benedict … naturally, washed down with a mimosa,” Michelle said.
Patterson’s is a huge success, and Michael and Michelle love what they do, but it hasn’t been easy.
“It’s the hardest industry to work in. It’s highly stressful, there’s a ton of pressure,” she said, “but I don’t think we’d do it any other way.”
From the outside, Bodega looks like the coolest, hippest deli in town. The neon signs in the window and brightly painted wooden door frame boast a polychromatic sense of fun and vibrancy.
From the inside, the view is even better. Bodega has a cozy, down-to-earth atmosphere. The style is eclectic and one-of-a-kind. It smells fresh. Everyone seems to be smiling.
No one knows Bodega better than Samuel Markey. He worked there for 15 years before becoming the owner.
Despite the opportunity, Markey didn’t always picture himself as a business owner. He dreamed of being something a little more traditional.
“I wanted to be a suit and tie businessman,” he said.
But life had other plans for him.
Markey, a self proclaimed Oxford townie, moved around quite a bit during his childhood until his step dad retired.
“I had military parents,” he said. “I was used to going from place to place.”
Markey’s journey in the food industry began 20 years ago at DiPalo’s, owned by George DiPalo. He worked as a dishwasher.
“The nice thing about DiPalo’s was that if you wanted to learn something, they would teach you,” he said. “That’s how I started to work my way up.”
He started with the cold foods, like salad and dessert, and eventually, made it to the big leagues: the hot foods. He learned how to sauté, fry, prep dinners and how to love cooking.
As he gained his badges of honor and progressed, he discovered his passion there.
Fast-forward five years and Michael was starting chapter two of his journey at Bodega Delicatessen.
When the previous owner decided it was time to retire, the landlord asked Markey to take up the position, to become owner. He agreed to handle all the financial aspects of the business if Markey would say yes.
And so he did.
“If it weren’t for J.C. Rupel … none of this would have happened,” Markey said. “He did the purchase, the remodeling and offered me the job.”
Markey’s story is reminiscent of Cinderella’s rags to riches tale. Working behind the scenes for the majority of his career, enter the fairy godmother, giving Markey a successful business to run.
The only difference — Markey’s happy ending is a result of his own hard work, determination and dedication.
“Sometimes people think that owning a business means doing nothing,” Markey said. “It’s a lot of hard work. You have to make sure that it’s something you love to do.”
Luckily, it’s something he loves to do.