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Savoring, flavoring America

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Young and Susan Kim Kim have set themselves down in the land of the free and the home of huge.

The Sandy couple recently opened a mom 'n' pop shop, Towne Express, in the ZCMI Center food court.

That means they fend for clientele among the big-chain gang of sandwich shops dominating the noontime grubfest.

"That's OK," Young said. "We're used to challenges. We think we offer something others cannot."

Such as the Towne Express bill o' fare.

You can get waistline-friendly, seven-grain, turkey baguettes.

Or taste-bud caressing, cream-cheese strudels, hopelessly gooey buns called plunderschnecke and cookies you can play Frisbee with.

Or Susan's specialty — turkey-ham-and-cheese, raspberry-tinged, honey-brushed-pastry club sandwiches

Young might be right about the Kims' singularity in food alone.

But the funnest thing hitting this Towne is probably the Kims' spirit.

"We like inquiries. Ask for something, we'll try to make it," Young said. "That's what you get coming to us over a chain."

Adapting. Tackling long odds. These have been Kim hallmarks since leaving Yeosun, Korea, 17 years ago.

"I have the hungerness to succeed," Young said.

He and Susan came by pangs honestly.

Both wanted higher education. But it's not encouraged in Korean culture once you reach mid-20s, Kim said, youngest of eight children.

"Then we heard even grandfathers go to college in the U.S.," Young said.

He and Susan saved $5,000 from construction and secretarial jobs and applied to BYU-Hawaii. They'd become members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in high school. Enrolling in business, he took a school library job.

"After housing deductions, we had $2 left over each paycheck," he said.

The Relief Society offered food.

"I was too shameful to do it," Young said.

He and Susan bought 25-pound bags of rice for $3.50 and a $3 gallon-jugs of soy sauce, both good for a month. They lived mostly on that and government-allotted cheese and butter.

Young whizzed through four years of school in 2 1/2 years. Then, while Susan also attended school and juggled three kids, Young gave guided island tours for 30 bucks a night, slept in study cubicles and earned an MBA.

They decided their first business would be a tiny grocery in Laie, Hawaii.

"At least we controlled our food this way," Kim said, laughing.

They scrimped, bought a diner and apartment complex, then made for the mainland four years ago.

"We chose Utah because it's conservative. Good for families," Susan said.

Although the Kims say mall rents are three times higher than most corner-store sites, they like their niche.

"We get amenities such as the shared tables and chairs. We have foot traffic from the offices. It's safer than a corner store. And downtown whites seem more accepting of ethnics," Susan said.

The Kims came here wanting to meet folks different from themselves — and to become U.S. citizens, which they did last year.

Though newly minted Americans, they took the terrorist attacks very personally.

"I feel . . . like I lost my own friends, my own relatives . . .," Susan said, her voice cracking.

It doesn't take long being in this land of uniquely diverse opportunity to feel deeply a threat of losing it.

Susan said it pretty well for all of us, didn't she?

E-mail: gtwyman@desnews.com