When Min Chung was a boy growing up in Burien, his father used to drag him across the Sound to Vashon Island every weekend for fishing trips. Young Chung would occasionally get cranky--"In Asian culture, the youngest son has no say," he says. So in order to pacify him, Chung's dad would stop for a snack at the Hoagie's Corner on 35th and Barton in West Seattle before making the final downhill descent to the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
Lil' Scoop Straight outta Vashon, the nicest convenience store table you'll ever sit down at.
As an adult, Chung moved into a home within a mile of the former deli, which had gone through subsequent incarnations as a 7-11 and a struggling independent convenience store. A couple years ago, while driving on 35th Ave SW--a road dubbed "I-35" for its travelers' propensity to far exceed the posted speed limit--Chung got in a car accident right in front of the store. At the time, he was in talks with 7-11 to purchase and operate his own franchise. But fate had suddenly reacquainted him with the then-dingy little store of his youth.
"After talking to my wife, she said, 'Honey, just have fun," Chung recalls. "What would be fun? I love drinking beer, and the hoagie sandwich has sentimental value attached to it for me. So rather than buying a million-dollar business, I decided to buy a very small, failing business."
That business is Super Deli Mart. From the outside, it looks like what it is: a former 7-11. From the inside, it's like no other convenience store in the city. There are a couple aisles of toiletries and economy-sized edibles, sure, but the vast majority of floor space is devoted to beer and wine. Not just any beer and wine, but really good beer and wine that could only have been procured by the geekiest of geeks. And five or six of those beers are on tap behind the counter, where meaty, cheesy sandwiches on French rolls are also prepared, just like at the old Hoagie's.
When he bought the store, Chung sought the counsel of some friends on the Liquor Control board, so as to figure out how to legally serve one-ounce samples. Then one of the liquor agents mentioned in passing that his license also entitled him to serve pints and fill to-go growlers.
"For me, that was a complete surprise," says Chung. "I didn't go in thinking I'd serve pints of beer."
But that surprise couldn't have been more pleasant. Soon, Chung's customers were quaffing beer and commiserating like they would at a small-town, all-purpose general store, or a neighbor's rec room. He decided he'd have to build a communal table, for comfort's sake. One day, a customer told Chung not to worry about it--a cedar tree had just fallen down on the customer's property in Vashon (thus completing the geographical covenant of uncanny nostalgia), and he and a few skilled laborers would be happy to make a table for Chung. What resulted is lacquered and gorgeous, the sort of piece you'd expect to find in a luxurious mountain lodge or Linda's Tavern--anywhere but Chung's store.
If you visit Super Deli Mart, don't expect to find local favorites like Manny's or Mac & Jack's on tap. Avery, Two Beers, Stone Brewing, Russian River, Pike Brewing, Bear Republic, Younger and Maui Brewing are among the varieties Chung pours instead, and he hosts community tastings with brewery reps every two weeks. On April 19, Stone Brewing will be featured. "Two of the beers we're going to tap here have never been tapped in the state of Washington," says Chung, whose brewer events typically attract around 100 thirsty attendees. ("That gets a little overwhelming for me," he cheerfully concedes.)
"Stone, Elysian, Full Sail and Russian River--those four breweries have really given me the benefit of the doubt and given me special beers," adds Chung. "I used those guys to get other breweries to give me special beers. That's the fun part for me: finding new beers."
Super Deli Mart, 9051 35th Ave SW, 937-1442, twitter.com/superdelimart, WEST SEATTLE