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Broadway bid a starry and emotional farewell to the Starlite Deli last week, performing a heartfelt musical tribute to proprietors Jung “Mr M” Min Kim and Jahee Kim as they prepared to close the cafe after 39 years in business.
A TikTok video from former Hamilton cast member Preston Mui has garnered over 2.2 million views and shows a large crowd of current and former Broadway casts gathered around the Starlite, serenading Mr M and Mrs Min with the traditional goodbye tune used to wish departing performers well, Roy Rogers’ Happy Trails.
“I will never forget this moment — I really appreciate you,” said a visibly moved Mr M as he thanked the crowd for their accolades. The couple, who moved from Seoul, Korea to the US in the 1980s and opened the Starlite on W44th Street in 1984, were presented with a retirement gift of a framed Playbill-style framed poster of the shop and a $17,839 check sourced from grateful patrons who fondly recalled the Starlite and its proprietors as vital members of the Theater District.
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“Seeing Mr M and Mrs Min say goodbye to this beautiful community really made me think about my own parents, and how much they have sacrificed to come to America and create a life for me,” narrated Preston. Many other Broadway vets expressed their gratitude for a couple who were warm and generous in service, frequently providing catering for exhausting “load-in” and “load-outs” at nearby theaters and often gifting a free sandwich to regulars as a token of appreciation.
“Mr M is the nicest man — he’s been taking care of us for 30 years,” Mark, a stage veteran who has been with the company of Wicked for 18 years told us when W42ST stopped by to document the deli’s last days. “He has a sunny disposition that is honestly really unusual for Times Square.”
Fellow patron Scott Scheidt added: “I first walked into Starlite in 1989 and met Mr Min. Been friends since, through many shows for both of us. Bought coffee break for my shows when I was the road prop guy. Saw his kids graduating school. When I was out ill last year, he kept asking after me and when he found out I was back, come to my theatre looking for me to give me a hug. During the unfortunate strike in 2007 he delivered free coffee and snacks to those of us walking picket in the cold. And don’t forget his lovely wife, who built the business along with him. I will miss my friends as they go off to their well-deserved retirement.”
“They truly don’t come any finer,” wrote patron Greg Bernhardt. ”I truly feel blessed to have had Mr Min, his family and crew in our corner. Always a ‘go to’ destination for lunch. He always made you feel valued and it was more than lunch. It was like a visit with an old friend. The clock moves forward as the hands of time pass. So happy that you are moving on to enjoy the joys of life that lie ahead.”
Fittingly, a member of the original A Chorus Line run — which Mr M remembered as one of his first and favorite Broadway shows — told W42ST that the admiration was mutual. “I was in A Chorus Line at the Shubert Theater, and the Starlite Deli was our go-to place to pick up a quick coffee and snack before a matinee or grab a sandwich between shows,” wrote Christine Barker. “Thank you Mr M for all those years keeping us fed.”
For Mr M and Mrs Min — who plan to retire to Syosset, Long Island — the moving tribute was a sweet spot in a bittersweet transition, fueled in part by the difficulties of operating a business in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’m old. I’m 71. So it’s not like before,” Mr M told NBC News. “I worked really hard before, but I just can’t do the same. I tried saving my business, too, but no one was willing to take over my deli. So I just decided to retire. Now, Dunkin’ Donuts is going to replace our shop.” And while the reopening of other Theater District favorites should help to fill the void left by Starlite, Shubert Alley will certainly never be the same.