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Chris Smith: The good an Omelette Express may well do on Jeju

A typical breakfast on the gorgeous South Korean island of Jeju, where Santa Rosa has a sister-city kinship worthy of the name, might feature rice and kimchi, a seaweed soup with fish or the ubiquitous pajeon, a green-onion pancake.

But soon, Jeju residents and visitors may walk into the third Don Taylor’s Omelette Express - the first two are in Railroad Square and Windsor - and order the beloved No. 7: Bacon, spinach, herbs, mushrooms and cheese.

It’s mind-blowing even to imagine venturing out one morning on Korea’s Hawaii-like volcanic isle and coming upon a restaurant bearing Don Taylor’s name and one of his sliced-off grills of a classic car. On top of that, picture this:

By treating themselves to an American-style breakfast at Omelette Express No. 3, guests will help teen moms on the island to provide for themselves and their children.

DON TAYLOR is no lilliputian in Santa Rosa, where his mother, Nan, opened the original Omelette Express on lower Fourth Street in 1977. But the former City Council candidate has become quite the significant figure on Jeju Island, home to about 600,000 Koreans.

For 20 years, Taylor has been key to Santa Rosa’s sister city relationship with Jeju City, the island’s capital. He’s been front and center as scores of adults and teens from Santa Rosa and Jeju have criss-crossed for cultural exchanges.

It’s possible that Taylor, Mayor John Sawyer, Councilman Tom Schwedhelm and several other city officials may not yet be unpacked from their last visit to Jeju and its famed Fire Festival.

The Omelette Express owner’s contribution to the trans-Pacific sisterhood includes his gift five years ago of a bronzed Snoopy statue; it’s a major attraction on the island. Jeju gave to Santa Rosa the two Dol Hareubang or Stone Grandfather figures that stand alongside Sonoma Avenue just south of City Hall and “Woman with a Jar,” the figure gracing the fountain on Fourth Street at the breezeway labeled Jeju Way.

THROUGH MANY VISITS to Jeju, Taylor befriended Dr. AeDuck Im, an educator, public figure, champion of the sister-city connection and director of the AeSuhWon shelter for young single mothers and their children. Taylor has supported her mission for years.

“Most Jeju people know Don Taylor,” Im told me by phone. “He’s very good and wonderful; I would like to make him an icon.”

It was Im’s idea to build near the home for teen mothers a café where the moms can be trained to cook and to serve and to run a restaurant. She’d eaten at her Santa Rosa friend’s place while visiting here and thought to pattern her teaching café after it.

She proposed naming the training restaurant in Jeju Don Taylor’s Omelette Express. It gets Taylor sort of choked up.

As construction on the projects gets underway outside of Jeju City, he stands ready to instruct the first kitchen crew on the making of an omelette. He imagines that if the Korean Omelette Express catches on, it will not only launch single moms into culinary jobs but generate some serious money for the AeSuhWon home.

Dr. Im said, “The single moms are very excited about it.

“If we succeed, I think the omelette will be very popular in Jeju.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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