Today we continue with part two of our interview with Harry Kho, owner and “Executive Sandwich Creationist” of Harry's Deli in Irvine.
Missed the first part of our interview? Click here.
Otherwise, read on.
What you'd like to see more of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
More authentic food made by real people with love.
What you'd like to see less of in Orange County from a culinary standpoint:
Big-chain garbage who only cares about the bottom line instead of our bottoms.
“Healthy Appetite” by Gordon Ramsay, “Under Pressure” by Thomas Keller.
What show would you pitch to the Food Network?
“Real Food” or “Eat Your Way Out of the Recession” with Harry Kho. How to make real food with stuff you can actually find and buy at a great bargain. None of this white truffle, framboise, emmentaler, frou-frou stuff.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Balut–duck egg with nearly formed duckling inside.
You're making an omelet. What's in it?
Cheddar-jack cheese, sausage, onions, red bell peppers, habanero slices.
You're at the market. What do you buy two of?
Weirdest customer request:
Chicken noodle soup sans chicken. o.O
Favorite OC restaurant(s) other than your own:
Capital Seafood in Little Saigon.
Hardest lesson you've learned:
There's never enough hand-whipped MAYO.
What would the last meal on Earth be?
10 pounds fresh Alaskan king crab and 3 cups of butter.
Who's your hero? Culinary or otherwise?
My Grandpa, who taught me to love food.
What cuisine that you are unfamiliar with would you want to learn more about and why?
Sushi, because of the discipline, detail, and precision.
So what were you doing before you started Harry's Deli? You seemed to have materialized from thin air!
Indeed, I was spontaneously created to make good food for good people! I was actually just another “victim” of the Great Recession, however my unemployment was more by choice than anything else, so I guess I was a victim of myself. I was taking some time off from a business consulting gig and really thinking about what I wanted to do with myself. That's when this deli + a small fistful of my last savings came together and an opportunity to get into a “fixer-upper” deli brought us to where we are today!
What's your background, culinary or otherwise?
My background professionally has mostly been with luxury auto sales, and finance. I also owned a couple of other small businesses that ultimately failed because I had no passion for what I was doing. In regards to my culinary background, I studied under my mom who from a young age taught me about loving food. I would sit in the kitchen as her “sous chef” helping out with chopping, all the while I was observing the way her hands would move, the way she would get into her food. I learned the importance of putting yourself into the food (not literally of course), and attention to detail.
What made you decide to do a deli?
I dunno really. They say stereotypes come from truth, so I was just reinforcing what every Korean-American should do in business. I've owned a liquor store, managed a dry cleaner, so the the next natural step was to complete the circle by owning a deli. 🙂 Honestly though, even as a kid I LOVED sandwiches. I used to scribble down ideas for sandwiches during physics class while all the other kids were getting an “education.” I even thought of names for my deli like, “The Lunchbox” or “Scarlet Pumpernickel.” I was obsessed with food already, but the idea of a deli seemed like a fun thing to do for a living. I've really thought about it since I was a wee lad, and now it's actually happening, go figure.
Your wife, Mercy, handles the front of the house. Do you have other family helping out? What do they think of your success?
My pops used to work for us. Let's just say he's better at golf than he is at food. I put him back into retirement and thanked him for all the awesome support. My family has been totally supportive and are proud that I am finally doing something I love. It's not quite the same as being a doctor as all Asian parents hope for, but I guess this will do…
What's your favorite sandwich to eat? To make?
All-time favorite has to be the perfect Reuben. There's just something about the way the corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, and grilled rye meld together in a beautiful symphony of flavorful bliss that get's me going. As far as making, I love making my pulled-pork because of all the love that goes into it. It's like a baby really, I rub it, put it to sleep, and get it up the next morning for a spectacular day.
What do you hope for your business in 5 years? In 10?
The ol' 5-year plan isn't quite finished, but it has to do with Harry's becoming the go-to spot for all the working warriors that keep the OC going. My plan is to establish, perfect, and repeat. In 10 years, I hope to have finished culinary school and go into fine dining without the pretentious atmosphere and expensive price tag. Just like now, I want to make the classics with immense love, and a little bit of Harry in it, without having to take out a second mortgage just to eat well. With the love we're getting from such awesome fans, we'll get there in no time!
Harry's Deli, 17881 Sky Park Circle,
Irvine, CA 92614-6304, (949) 261-2116, harrys-deli.com