Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from My BBQ Shack in Hackensack

Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from My BBQ Shack in Hackensack

4.1 8
by Robert Egan

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Robert Egan could have been a roofing contractor, like his father. Instead, he opened a barbecue restaurant. His interest in the search for Vietnam-era POWs led to an introduction to North Korean officials desperate to improve relations with the United States. So Egan turned his restaurant into Camp David, with pork ribs.  During tumultuous years that saw


Robert Egan could have been a roofing contractor, like his father. Instead, he opened a barbecue restaurant. His interest in the search for Vietnam-era POWs led to an introduction to North Korean officials desperate to improve relations with the United States. So Egan turned his restaurant into Camp David, with pork ribs.  During tumultuous years that saw the death of Kim Il Sung, the rise of Kim Jong Il, the Bush “Axis of Evil,” and North Korea’s successful test of a nuclear weapon, Egan advised North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, informed for the FBI, vexed the White House, and nearly rescued a captured U.S. Navy vessel. Based on true events, this fast-paced tale shows how far one citizen can go in working for peace.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
“A jaunty narrative of one man’s sometimes self-indulgent escapades in the face of government ambivalence.”
The New York Times
From the Publisher
“Narrator Traber Burns has a down-home style that sounds like he’s sitting on his porch telling us this unique personal story.”
Kirkus Reviews
International political relations are creatively managed by a New Jersey restaurant owner. In his 1992 sworn testimony, the author admitted to POW/MIA Affairs attorney John McCreary that he simply wished to "make a difference . . . to become part of the solution" in initiating positive dialogue between himself and Vietnamese political powerhouses. As the street-smart son of a blue-collar disciplinarian, Egan eschewed college for roofing work, abused cocaine and became a general troublemaker. Early on he developed an intense interest in the Vietnam War, which ended before he could enlist. Incensed by the many soldiers who remained unaccounted for by war's end, Egan brazenly contacted the Vietnamese Embassy in 1979, intent on getting answers to the missing POWs. Two years later, he opened Cubby's, a roadside barbeque restaurant that eventually became a base camp for his international-relations meetings. Vietnamese diplomats began to dine there, exchanging ideas and comparing their communist structure to America's capitalism-much to the extreme dismay of Egan's father, who notified the FBI. Believing his peacekeeping mission was fizzling, he settled into work at the restaurant, expanded the menu and moved in with his girlfriend. More than ten years after opening Cubby's, North Korean representatives visited, eager to "work together." Under the watchful eye of Feds assigned to Egan, he carefully befriended the North Koreans with New Jersey Nets tickets, catered Embassy lunches and fishing trips. Amid international political discord, a good-natured culture clash endured between Egan and North Korean deputy U.N. ambassador Han Song Ryol. While continually informing McCreary of developments,Egan and his new friends pondered nuclear-arms issues and rationalized governmental misinterpretations. The author also submitted to a truth serum-induced interrogation and endured a few nerve-wracking moments throughout both the Clinton and Bush regimes. An enlightening, and precarious, experiment in the ways opposing cultures can merge and acquiesce.
Publishers Weekly
"Why can't an ordinary guy have a solution for an extraordinary problem?" is the question that Robert Egan asks himself each morning. This energetic entrepreneur, owner and operator of a New Jersey diner, got his first taste of diplomacy when he befriended Vietnamese diplomats in the early '80s. But his real entre into the field was via Han Song Ryol, the North Korean ambassador to the U.N. Over platters of ribs, fishing trips, and ball games Egan slowly insinuates himself into inner circles that have confounded or eluded most career diplomats. The fearless Egan makes several trips to North Korea, replete with drug-induced interrogations, before nearly making a deal to recover the USS Pueblo. A bulldog with a heart of gold, Egan's genuine affection and desire to "do good" shines through his gruff exterior. Not only does he arrange for the North Korean Women's soccer team to compete in the U.S., he also sets up a shopping trip to a New Jersey Wal-Mart. Egan's ego looms large and his flip comments can be annoying, but readers still have to acknowledge that, for a guy who grew up on the streets settling scores with his firsts, he's accomplished a lot.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
In this engaging, off-the-wall memoir, Egan, a New Jersey restaurant owner, and journalist Pitzer tell the story of Egan's friendship with a member of North Korea's mission to the United Nations and Egan's subsequent adventures in unofficial diplomacy between the United States and North Korea. Egan frequently hosted North Korean diplomats at his "barbecue shack," Cubby's, and made several trips to North Korea. Thus he is able to convey behind-the-scenes information to readers. Egan's activism stemmed from his interest in American POWs in Vietnam, but readers also learn of his interactions with the Mafia and the FBI, not to mention North Korea and the restaurant business. His experience with North Korea, however, is the focus of the memoir and demonstrates the power that individual friendships formed across "enemy" lines can have. VERDICT Egan and Pitzer's down-to-earth language and irreverent style will appeal to readers looking for a funny, offbeat memoir about serious issues, but it will not appeal to scholars and students, as there is no research cited (no bibliography or endnotes).—Madeline Mundt, Univ. of Nevada, Reno

Product Details

HighBridge Company
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

There was only one chair in the room. Fluorescent tubes on the ceiling hummed with blue light. The woman smiled and explained in a soothing voice that there were some “procedures” they had to go through.

“We’re just going to put you under for a few minutes,” she said. One of the officials told me to turn around..

“Do I have a choice?” I lowered my pants, exposing most of my left butt cheek.  The woman came up from behind me, and I felt a sharp prick as she pushed in the needle and rammed the solution into my muscle. When she finished, I sat down.

“Which agency do you work for? CIA?” asked the other male official.

“I operate independently,” I said. I started to feel good. Very good. I had the urge to laugh, even though nobody had said anything funny. “I’m a lone wolf. And I make burgers for a living. I’m a burger-making lone wolf.”

I must have blacked out for some of it. When I opened my eyes again, the two men were there, but the woman was gone. I wiped my nose, and my hand came away bloody. I suddenly felt so sick and dizzy I thought I’d had a stroke. “What the fuck?”

Meet the Author

ROBERT EGAN has owned and run Cubby’s, a barbecue restaurant in Hackensack, New Jersey for the past twenty-five years. He has served as an “unofficial ambassador” for the government of North Korea and is the chairman of a trade group that has worked to improve ties between that country and the United States. His story has been profiled in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and elsewhere.

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Eating with the Enemy: How I Waged Peace with North Korea from My BBQ Shack in Hackensack 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enlightening read about politics today. Take an ordinary citizen who wants to make a difference and make him the pivotal character in diplomacy with North Korea. Set this scene in a small restaurant in New Jersey and you hve the recipe for a successful adventure. You will not believe what happens next. Spend some time enjoying this piece of modern day history. PJ
baronovsky More than 1 year ago
Eating with the Enemy offers the most unlikely confluence of mafia wisdom, class warfare, BBQ recipes and a stinging critique of our diplomatic policies. It's a face paced and thoroughly enjoyable read.
manhattanpauperguru More than 1 year ago
In Eating with the Enemy, Bobby quotes and old street saying, "keep your friends close and your enemies closer." The National Security Council and the powers directing our foreign policy should take a common sense lesson from Bobby. Thankfully, we have inched away from the inane and dysfunctional isolationist policies under Bush II. May we continue along the path of dialogue.
cdsky More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because it was in the cookbook section, turns out it is all politics...a whole political rendition of backroom politics that happen in New Jersey. Don't bother picking this up for any cooking, I don't even know why Barnes and Noble has it under cooking!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BookerWorm More than 1 year ago
After finishing" Eating with the Enemy" I gave a copy to my husband and while he read it we've spent some very pleasurable evenings comparing notes on the funniest passages of the book. Was it the time that Bobby took the North Korean women's soccer players to Walmart to buy lingerie? Or the time his "Commie"-hating father got stuck in Atlanta with the Olympics athletes? Or the time Bobby and his dentist friend put North Korean ambassador Han under too much anesthetic and nearly caused a war? Or (my husband's favorite - I thought it was scary!) the time the FBI told Bobby NOT to take the North Koreans hunting in New Jersey with real weapons and Bobby did it anyway, and Ambassador Han almost pulled a Dick Cheney by shooting Bobby's hunting buddy? Beneath all the laughs, there are some very serious and heartfelt lessons to this book. Maybe we should treat other cultures with dignity and respect before we try and influence how they govern themselves. As citizens, we should all be a little more like Bobby, stepping in and doing something when we don't like how our government is acting on our behalf.
Mort45 More than 1 year ago
Fascinating story. Unbelievable. Who is this guy Bobby Egan? Restaurant owner, cook for the NY Giants, would-be mobster, friend of Ross Perot, P.O.W advocate, peacemaker, patriot and double agent. This book proves the power of one. If you get involved. You can make a change. One person can. Even the most unlikely ones.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago