Life of Jane

It’s a Mall World After All

Memories of Forum VI

By Jane Borden

I have been to China, Europe, Mexico, Israel and Peru. But before that, I went international at the food court in the Forum VI. The shopping center, which was built in 1976 and gutted in the late ’90s, was on the corner of Pembroke Road and Northline Avenue, and inside it was an Italian restaurant and a Greek joint. Don’t tell me those countries are only 500 miles apart and on the same body of water — to my 12-year-old brain, they spanned the globe. Plus, the food court at Forum VI also had a hotdog place, and every culture in the world eats some kind of sausage, so I am making an airtight argument here.

Besides, if you took the escalator downstairs from the food court, and got a little more dressed up, you could journey to Japan. Kabuto was the first Japanese restaurant in Greensboro, established in 1976 when the mall was built. It was owned and operated by Yoshi Tanaka, who also opened the first Japanese restaurant in North Carolina, Sagano in Winston-Salem. The only reason I know this is because Tanaka’s son, Ken, was my buddy growing up. And the only reason I know Ken is because a Forum VI developer enticed his dad to move down from Boston and open Kabuto.

Going to Kabuto blew my tweenage mind. I’m guessing I had to go see Cathy at Looking Ahead after each time I dined there, because Kabuto blew the kinks out of my perm. Jeez, we get it, Jane, they cooked tableside. Excuse me. They did not just cook in front of you; they tossed shrimp tails in the air, and caught them in their hats. Shrimp on heads! They juggled salt and pepper shakers. It was a circus that fed you. They lit things on fire. Fire! I was a pyro in acid-washed jeans, and I think I might have cried the whole time I was there.

Dining at Kabuto was rare, though, on account of the price point and, maybe, the chance that I’d set someone aflame. The Forum VI dining establishment frequented most by me was the K&W cafeteria, because my grandmother liked to go. K&W is kind of the opposite of Kabuto. You go to the kitchen, instead of the kitchen coming to you; the food is already prepared when you arrive; and the only fires are small flames under chafing dishes. One similarity, however, is that hair nets are a kind of hat — or, at least, that’s what my toddler thinks. Even in these spare conditions, I adored K&W, not least because I could create an entire meal out of mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and Jell-O. When I think about it philosophically, the process of moving through a cafeteria line seems one of powerlessness: Your pace is set by the orderly line of other diners, your tray moves along its sanctioned steel path, the food has always already been served. Emotionally, however, I recall feeling a strong sense of agency at the cafeteria. I got to carry my own tray. I chose carefully how to fill its real estate. We seated ourselves — wherever we wanted! And if one was still hungry, she simply got back in line, unless it was only for more Jell-O, in which case, Jane, it’s time to go home.

While we are on the topic of Forum VI, I am compelled to share my strongest memory of the upscale, indoor mall, which, in fact, is not my memory at all, as I was not yet born. The story has been told so many times in my family, though, that I may as well have been there when my sister Tucker fell into the fountain. Then my eldest sister Lou shouted, “Get the pennies! Get the pennies!” But Tucker was cold and in shock, and scrambled out quickly. Then she said, with deep disappointment, “I didn’t get any pennies.” Mom and Dad took her into the shoe store Taylor’s, where the employees graciously helped her dry off and warm up.

Taylor’s is gone now, as are the fountain, Montaldo’s, the Limited Express, Toys & Co., the hotdog joint, and everything else that comprised Forum VI except for K&W Cafeteria. It is the only business remaining in the office building currently occupying the corner of Pembroke and Northline. My grandmother is also gone but I think of her every time I drive by. I also think of Jell-O.

My mother loved the Greek restaurant, and everyone there knew her name. But now she has that relationship with Ghassan’s. It’s Lebanese not Greek, but it scratches a similar itch for my mother, and they all know her order by heart.

Kabuto is still open, but in a new location, where Wendover crosses I-40. Presumably, it continues to blow tweenage minds with pyrotechnics. In fact, Kabuto’s legacy also remains. Last year, Yoshi Tanaka offered Ken the house he grew up in. So, after twenty years of living away — in Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, Minneapolis, and Atlantic City — Ken has recently moved back to Greensboro with his wife and toddler.

As for my sister Tucker, she went into banking, so she finally got all those pennies.  OH

You can find Greensboro native Jane Borden, author of I Totally Meant To Do That, at JaneBorden.com or via twitter.com/JaneBorden.

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