Don’t let the name fool you – is neither a Chinese restaurant nor a deli. Rather, it is a well-established Korean restaurant that continues to flourish despite the sudden death last year of the driving force behind the family business.
It’s easy to miss Hunan Deli, which is sandwiched between two other “delis” in the more industrial part of Lorton. Whan Yi and his wife, Sang, took over the location in 1998, transforming a barbecue restaurant into a Korean/Chinese restaurant that serves traditional Korean dishes as well as “Koreanized” Chinese food.
The Yis’ two young daughters helped in the restaurant as well and business was good from the start, said the younger daughter, Hyun-Jung, who goes by H.J. and now runs the restaurant with her mother.
The area was nothing special when Hunan Deli opened, but the rent was low and other businesses in the strip mall off Telegraph Road were owned by Koreans, so her father knew it would attract other Koreans, H.J. said. The restaurant also became popular with non-Koreans who worked in the area and still draws a sizable lunch crowd from Fort Belvoir and other local businesses.
The Yi family moved to the United States in 1987 to seek a better life and pursue the American dream, said H.J., who was in kindergarten at the time and is now 29. Her parents found work in the restaurant business, where it didn’t matter that they barely spoke English, and worked in various restaurants until striking out on their own.
H.J. said she believes Hunan Deli got its name from the city in Korea where her father was born, Honam, and its location between two other shops with deli in the name.
The Yis did everything themselves, their daughter said, from shopping to making noodles from scratch to keeping the books by hand, seven days a week. But then Whan died of a heart attack last May at age 58. H.J. said she believes that overwork contributed to his death. With Whan so much a part of the business, the restaurant closed for a time while the Yis pondered their future.
But H.J.’s mother wasn’t ready to retire, and Whan always wanted his daughter to take over the business. So she stepped in, taking over the shopping and business side while her mother does most of the cooking.
It’s a hectic day for H.J., who works from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the restaurant, then goes to her other job as a mortgage loan processor before returning to Hunan Deli in time for dinner. She stays until the restaurant closes at 9, then goes home to her husband and 9-year-old son in Vienna.
The Yis have made same changes in the wake of Whan’s death. They’ve fixed things up a bit, with fresh paint on the walls, new furnishings and a takeout menu. And as of this month, Hunan Deli is now closed on weekends.
7200 Telegraph Square Dr., 703-339-8818. Open Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Prices: $7.95 for Ja-Jang Myeon (think of it as Korean spaghetti with black bean paste for sauce), $8.95 for the lunch portion of Bulgogi Jap Chae (marinated grilled beef) and $15.95 for Tang Soo Yuk (Korean style sweet and sour pork).
Owners’ favorites: H-J likes Doobu Jigae (spicy tofu soup), while her mother is partial to Deok Mandu Guk (rice cake soup).