Yoon-ock Kim prepares bibimbap in the kitchen area of Oriental Pantry. (Dominique Castanheira, Contributing Photographer)
Around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oriental Pantry — an Asian market on Orange Street — was broken into and robbed. The community has since rallied to support the family-owned establishment.
Oriental Pantry is run single-handedly by Yoon-ock Kim, who had left for the night when the business’ glass front door was broken and $200 was stolen from the cash register. The crime brought added financial pressure on Kim. Oriental Pantry’s business had already seen a harsh drop in revenues since the onset of the pandemic, forcing Kim to delay rent payments over the past two and a half months.
A Yale student helper, Lauren Kim ’21, set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover the damages. The effort has since surpassed its $2,000 goal to raise close to $13,000 as of Thursday evening.
“I was surprised,” Kim said of the response to the GoFundMe. “I love the community and I appreciate its support.”
When Kim arrived after the break-in, she said that the interior of the restaurant was “a mess” but that no merchandise had been stolen. However, since the business is not insured through her landlord, Kim had to cover the damages herself. She told the News she will use the funds from the GoFundMe to make repairs, including those she has already initiated to fix the storefront’s door, in addition to covering back rent and installing security cameras.
Kim has owned and operated Oriental Pantry – which offers pan-Asian ingredients as well as several Korean dishes – for over 35 years. She is well known for her bibimbap, a Korean dish of warm white rice with assorted vegetables and meat. While running her business during the pandemic has been a great challenge, Kim said she chose to stay open because she knows many of her customers rely on her shop to buy niche ingredients for Asian cuisine.
“My purpose is I’m saving [customers’] time… they just come here and pick up everything that they need,” Kim said.
Oriental Pantry is one of the few pan-Asian stores in Connecticut; customers agree the establishment offers unique food and hospitality.
Pamela Soulos, the associate director of the COPPER Center at the Yale School of Medicine, said that Oriental Pantry is important to the community because it provides “access to a lot of different types of foods that are difficult to find at other places.”
Soulos has stopped by Oriental Pantry in the past, although she had not shopped there recently. When she heard about the break-in, she decided to go again to show her support for the small business.
“If people want these places to continue to be around, you have to support them,” Soulos said.
Despite the break-in, Kim said that she feels safe in Oriental Pantry’s current location, and she does not believe the break-in was racially motivated.
Carrie Law SOM ’21, had not heard about the burglary when she arrived at Oriental Pantry for her monthly bibimbap, but she said that there is “huge” importance in supporting local Asian businesses, especially because of recent events, including the mass shooting in Atlanta last week.
“It’s infuriating that this is happening,” Law said of the surge of anti-Asian violence in the country. “It’s going to encourage me to come back a little bit more often and potentially donate to local businesses.”
Oriental Pantry is located at 486 Orange St.
Dominique Castanheira | firstname.lastname@example.org