Happy Bibimbap House
At 2:30 p.m. on Mondays, Hillary Park puts up a closed sign in the window of her restaurant, Happy BiBim Bap House. As the last customers finish their meals and take selfies, Park makes tea in her pink apron. She counts the final receipts as the restaurant closes, to the sound of violin renditions of hymns.
But when the last customers leave, Salem's only traditional Korean restaurant prepares to serve up to 200 more.
Happy BiBim Bap House began taking off Monday afternoons in 2015 to cook and serve meals to the homeless. Inside the restaurant, a donation box sits next to a sign sharing gratitude for the restaurant’s success and the owners’ desire to give back to the community. The donations go to Christmas gifts through Park's church’s mission. The weekly meal, which serves between 100 and 200 hungry Salem residents, comes directly from the restaurant’s earnings.
Happy BiBim Bap House is popular. It’s won minimum three “Best of the Mid-Valley” awards every year since 2014, winning best restaurant both in 2014 and in 2016. No dish is more than $20, and lunch specials cost less than $6.
Park grew up in South Korea, before she married her husband and moved to New York in 1985. A born-again Christian, Park is dedicated to giving back to the community, and when her family moved to Salem in 2010, they joined the Korean Church of Salem and opened Happy BiBim Bap House. After participating in a few missions, Parks and church members decided to start serving dinner to the homeless community under the Marion Street Bridge every Monday night at 4 p.m. The restaurant donates all of the food, and church members come to volunteer.
Once the restaurant has officially closed, Park steps into the kitchen and joins her husband and staff as they prepare vats of yellow curry, corn dogs, rice and yakisoba noodles. In the summer, the staff will make fried rice instead of curry. The restaurant tries to stick to simple American food and some popular Asian dishes, with as little meat as possible to accommodate vegetarians.
“Some people like it, some people don’t,” Park says of Korean food. “I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
The Diaz family, whom Park describes as her “adopted family,” start filling coffee dispensers and ketchup bottles to bring to the bridge. Park stands next to a stack of styrofoam to-go containers, on which she has inscribed Bible verses.
“Whenever I have a moment, I come and write these,” she says. Park was the only one willing to share her name, because the congregation doesn't want to take focus from “the grace of God.”
Once all of the coffee, cookies, bananas, water and trays of warm food fill the backseat of the Happy BiBim Bap House van, the Parks drive to the bridge, where men and women are already waiting. They applaud as the van parks under the bridge and the people start setting up.
David Jeon, pastor of the Korean Church of Salem, greets the Parks as they arrive. He comes to the dinner whenever possible.
“This is just one of the ways of sharing God’s love,” Jeon says of the dinner service.
Wesley Woodward lives in low-income housing, and loves Bibim Bap House’s noodles.
“These people don’t ask where you’re from, what your income is, they’re just here to serve,” Woodward says. He lived in Louisiana before he came back to Oregon. “It reminds me of me making a big batch of beans in New Orleans. People would line up at my doorstep from the projects next door.”
Jerry Barza picks up trash under the bridge and stands next to the table. He grew up homeless in Salem with his mother, who died when he was 16. He says God brought him back to Salem after a heart attack in 2008, and he now is a part of “the Church Without Walls,” Salem’s Baptist church for the homeless.
“God’s kept me busy,” Barza says. “Now, I come down and I make myself available to help.”
Dan Sheets facilitates a portion of the dinners that people serve here. Every night, churches and humanitarian groups will come to serve food, from casseroles to cookies. The Korean Church of Salem is one of two churches that serves food weekly (most serve monthly), and Happy BiBim Bap House is the only restaurant involved.
Once the tables are set, Sheets recites a prayer through a megaphone as a line grows next to the table. Once he finishes, dinner begins.
Sheets says part of the reason these dinners are so popular is that they’re outdoors and accessible.
“Our only rule is don’t be obnoxious,” he says. “If you’re hungry, you’re qualified.”
Tina Love thanks the woman who serves her curry, her smile accentuating a pink heart drawn on her cheek. Love moved to Oregon when she was 17. She says she’s “homeless by choice,” and wanted to help her friends who were living without a home in Salem. She comes daily to these meals, and expresses gratitude for the volunteers who serve here.
“Every one of those people has God in their heart,” Love said. “I hope they keep it.”
Once everyone is fed, Park steps away from the serving table to chat with her pastor. Through his translation, she says her charity should not be attributed to her.
“I do good by God’s grace, not my own strength,” she says through her pastor. “Just God’s grace and God’s glory.”
Article Source: Statesman Journal