CAST: Kim Bo Ra, Kim Woo-Seok, Kim Joon-ho, Hwang Seok-Jung


A lonely girl mourning the death of her beloved grandmother begins working at a cafe owned by the mysterious “Papa.” As she gets to know her coworkers and the exciting culture at the cafe, they form a found family that might heal each of their broken places



We meet our young lead LEE YURI (Kim Bo Ra) in mourning clothes at the Columbarium. From the one-point perspective of the cinematography to the opening line (“Grandma… Dad… You are both together again now”), this scene tells us everything we need to know. And not just about our lead’s current situation but also about how the story will be told to us: sparingly, carefully, and with minimum noise.

The series deploys flashbacks for freshly grieving Yuri. Much of the first episode relies on flashbacks to show us what was and contrast that to what is. I thought this might be a technique of the first episode only, but the second one does the same — taking us from Yuri’s current state of loneliness and grief and then looking back on the cozy little life that was disturbed by so much pain.

Yuri is alone in the house she grew up in with her grandmother, eating prepared food from the convenience store. We see the contrast with the many meals she had spent eating with her loving Grandma — homemade food, affection, and, more often than not, the company of her friends, too.

Many of the flashbacks are during Yuri’s high school years, and we see her hanging with her two boy pals, BAEK WOO-HYUN (Kim Woo-seok) and JI YONG-JOON (Kim Joon-ho). These three are adorable together, whether they are eating at the table with her grandmother or walking home together and scaring Yong-joon with ghost stories. There is also something in the air between Woo-Hyun and Yuri, though he might be the only one who knows it at that point.

The sweetness of these scenes makes Yuri’s current loneliness even more pronounced, which echoes even louder one day when she meets Yong-joon while he’s back home during a college break. He sweetly says he would have gone to her grandmother’s funeral if she’d told him, and then the two hang out in his room and reminisce. Looking at their old yearbook is just an excuse to talk about Woo-hyun, who’s vaguely noted as “not around anymore.”

We’re not sure what’s happened to him yet. Still, the drama’s structure of unpacking past occurrences via retelling is very effective, and we’ll likely hear Woo-hyun’s story in our next episodes. We do know that around last Christmas, Woo-hyun knew he wouldn’t be around for Yuri’s Christmas Eve birthday, so he gifts her an adorable pair of socks. This precious scene is contrasted with Yuri, now alone and cold in the empty house, prompted to find those socks.

But what happened to Woo-Hyun? In some of the more recent-past flashbacks, he looks a little pale, so we wonder if that will explain his absence. For now, though, it’s enough for us to see how sweet he was to Yuri, to see how he looked at her, and to hear his promise to her grandmother that she won’t ever have to eat alone.

The idea of eating alone is one of the story’s main themes, and it’s beautifully pulled out for such a simple story. In one of the flashbacks, Woo-hyun teases Yuri relentlessly about a pact they made as kids — all these rules they would keep about making the bed and such — and as Episode 2 opens, we see Yuri looking at one of the items. It reads that no matter what happens, you should always try to eat meals with others.

Back when Yuri was visiting Yong-Joon, a poster in his room caught her fancy: a photo of the aurora borealis, and at the bottom was a job advertisement to work “as a family member” for Finland Papa cafe. A noted job requirement is for everyone to eat their meals together.

Yuri, who can’t stand another sad store-bought meal at the house that reminds her of her too-fresh grief, decides to head to the cafe. Not only were the aurora borealis something her grandmother loved, but Finland Papa was just a ride on her bike away from her home. Everything seems to fit quite well.

At Finland Papa, Yuri meets the couple and their son that work there — the mother is MARI (Hwang Seok-Jung), the father is KAKA (Jung Min-sung), and their son is TOTO (Jang Do-Yoon). As Yuri rides up, they’re arguing — Toto has had it with his parents and walks off, muttering curses while Yuri is simultaneously invited to dinner. Mari says Toto has a foul mouth, but he’s an excellent cook. Sure enough, Yuri sits at their gigantic dining table and gobbles up her first home-cooked meal (of omurice) for the first time in the weeks since her grandmother died.

With her meal eaten, she’s hired, and the strange magic of the Finland Papa cafe begins.

From the all-too-familiar coincidences to the strange meta-commentary of the cafe workers throughout the second episode, we start to get the feeling that this whole scenario is a setup. But not in a creepy way — the drama is too soft for that. It’s more like an elaborate diorama someone has set up to comfort someone they love gently. (Can it be Woo-hyun…?)

One of the many “rules” of Finland Papa Cafe is that they have to “listen to the story of a person who cries” — and that’s just what they do. The four of them sit at the giant table yet again, and while Yuri tells them about her grandma, her father, and her childhood, we see it all in a flashback. Her tattooed gangster father came home with an infant daughter, her grandmother raised her, her father came home stabbed one night, and after that, her grandmother became ill. It’s so sad but also somehow saved from being overly sentimental.

While Yuri is telling her story, Toto has a side comment about how they’ll get bonus points for listening to her “hard to tell” story. Then, when Yuri concludes her story, Mari jumps up and starts this gentle dance to Polynesian music — the same music we see Yuri’s father playing in a flashback. Again, there are so many little hints and glimmers of this healing cafe being solely for Yuri’s comfort.

As the story unfolds, you fall in love with this gentle, well-told tale that uses clean simplicity to tell its story.

Plus points. Go Binge.




Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

most popular

I have read and agreed with the terms and conditions and privacy policy.

what you need to know

in your inbox every week.