Eleven o’clock on a Monday morning may be one of the best times to visit Manchester Bagel. This particular Monday, most of the people who love breakfast bagels were long gone and the lunch crowd had not arrived. A few customers savored their coffee, while a woman seemed to float in wearing a blue jacket and a pleasant smile. The atmosphere was relaxed, except for the black-clad blur doing business as owner Thomas Oh.
Oh took over the Manhattan Bagel franchise in the Festival at Manchester Lakes shopping plaza in 2002. He renamed the business Manchester Bagel when he went independent five years later.
Oh smoothed his black, Manchester Bagel t-shirt as he slowed down for a few minutes to explain that the large company wanted “a lot of things” that he could not follow, so he struck out on his own. It was not the first time.
After 13 years as what he called “a salary worker” for Samsung in South Korea, Thomas Oh opened his own restaurant. He said, “A salary worker’s life is hard. We got a lot of stress … I don’t want to get a lot of stress. For my health. For my longevity.”
He smiled when asked if he was a good cook. “Yes,” he said, “I learned from my mother-in-law. She was a good cook.”
So why come to the United States? Oh said he heard a lot about the American Dream, and he wanted it for his family. He decided that business ownership was the best way, because too often immigrants held jobs that Oh said paid “small money, then I cannot support my family and I cannot buy my house easily, and I cannot make an American Dream.”
By “easily” Oh means easier for a business owner to buy a home. But in general, life means keeping your shoulder to the grindstone. “There’s nothing easy in the world, in life,” he said. “Everything’s difficult. Everything’s hard ... so we have to try. I do my best to get a better life. To better support my family.”
Oh’s son works in Chicago, but his wife and daughter, the mother of his two granddaughters, work with him at Manchester Bagel. Every day they are living their American Dream, and doing it with the support of the people Thomas Oh called the “very good people” of the Kingstowne area.
“I enjoy operating this business,” Oh said. “This is a pretty good place. That’s why I want to do my best, grow my business and [have a] better life.”
And with that he was off, zipping the length of the restaurant. After all, it was almost lunch time.