The smell of fresh baked turkey is a scent that cuts through Lexington Market’s characteristic fragrances of fried chicken, fresh seafood, and hot corned beef. In the bustling market, it’s a smell that immediately evokes distinctly American memories of home, family, and celebration. But this tradition is one that owner Yong Hwang was introduced to as an adult.
The young Korean expatriate bought Krause’s in 1993. The original owner, Mr. Krause, opened and quickly sold his Lexington Market turkey stand after just a few months of business. And talking to Yong, you start to understand why it might be easy to give up the turkey business. Preparing the best turkey in the city is no mean feat.
Yong starts baking birds each day at 5 AM. Each turkey ranges from 20-25 pounds and bakes for 3.5 hours in the oven of Yong’s kitchen, deep beneath Lexington Market’s main floor. Once baked, the birds are carted a couple at a time to the Krause’s cases, where they’re seasoned and sold on platters and as the tastiest sandwich you could ever hope to eat. Moist and sliced thick, Yong’s turkey is often paired with cranberry dressing for Krause’s most popular (and most enormous) sandwich. “Turkey Sandwich” may not be something you normally crave, but that’s because you haven’t tasted Yong’s yet. Believe me, you want one.
So popular has Krause’s become that Yong sells between 600 and 1000 pounds of turkey daily. It’s a hectic pace that the cheerful and unassuming Yong has become accustomed to, and one to which he’s totally committed. After all, it’s Krause’s that allowed him to provide for his family, and which still covers tuition for his two kids’ university education. Yong’s son studies computer science at the University of Maryland, his daughter material sciences in Japan. You’ve got to sell a lot of turkeys to pay those kind of bills, but it’s a vocation that Yong approaches with equal parts pleasure and professionalism.
It’s a work ethic Yong learned from his parents’ generation. They and Yong’s Uncle moved from Korea to Baltimore, the extended family completing the move one or two at a time over a couple of decades. Yong himself was still very new to the United States when he bought Krause’s in 1993, the same month his daughter was born. In these hectic early days, his client base was made up of mostly professionals, people with money. As economic blight swept through the city, the rich people stopped coming by for turkey sandwiches, and the common social ills of poverty came to characterize his day-to-day at Lexington Market. Through all this, Yong just kept doing his job as well as he could do it. Today, like many other long-time Lexington merchants, he’s starting to see long-awaited better fortunes for his marketplace and adopted home-city.
Whatever the future holds, Yong is here for the long haul. His children graduate college in two years, and Yong plans to stick around even longer. Constitutionally kind and always smiling, Krause’s owner/operator is a joy to meet. This disposition, as well as his dedication to making turkey as good as it can be made, make him a Lexington Market pillar, serving American flavors better than you’ve likely tasted them before. It’s an irony, a Korean expat preparing a superlative example of an American tradition. But it’s a delicious contradiction that makes Lexington Market unique, and one that’ll have you craving a turkey sandwich like you’ve never thought possible.
Check out Krause’s vendor page for more information.