When the cream puffs and canelés at Pastries by Anne are served, soft-spoken Hyunsung Shin beams and bursts into song, his beautiful baritone booming through the bakery.
In case you didn’t guess, Sung, the sing-song moniker he prefers to go by, is passionate about pastries.
And opera singing.
And helping helm his family’s food-service supply business.
Any and all of his favorite things will elicit a Sung song.
If you think it’s an unusual set of interests, Sung couldn’t agree with you more.
He never set out to pursue any of them.
They found him, and he couldn’t be happier.
Sung, who was born in Daejeon, South Korea’s fifth largest city, came to America with his parents and younger brother when he was 3.
The family spent three months in Seattle with relatives before moving to New York, living in Jackson Heights, Woodside, Maspeth and finally, when they became more prosperous, Manhasset.
In the beginning, Sung’s father supported the family by doing odd jobs in the food-service industry, eventually buying a truck for $2,000 and starting Maspeth-based Lucky Supply, which sells plastic and paper goods to restaurants and delis, including Astoria’s Pastries by Anne, Comfortland, United Brothers Fruit Markets and Between the Bagel NY.
“When I was growing up, I never saw my father,” says Sung, who is 28 and lives in Long Island City. “He started the company when I was six, and he was working 16-hour days.”
Although Sung’s initial interest was baseball, he pivoted to opera and bowling when he was in high school.
“I was able to do them both because they were in different seasons,” he says, adding that he wanted to keep busy. “In the school’s musical productions, I started out making the sets and raising and lowering the curtain during performances.”
Eventually, Sung joined the chorus – “I was a singing tree in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” – and decided to try out for lead roles.
“I realized I had to learn how to sing,” he says. “The teacher I worked with just happened to specialize in opera. It didn’t matter to me; I just wanted to learn to sing.”
Sung had never heard of opera singers, much less seen or listened to an opera.
“I didn’t even know who Pavarotti was, but I started listening to YouTube videos of opera singers and discovered that I really loved this opera thing,” he says.
When it came time for college, Sung studied singing.
But things didn’t turn out as he expected; the plot of his life took many twists and turns before he found the path that worked for him.
He attended New York University, community college, Hofstra University and Queens College before settling down at Manhattan College of Music. (Hooray! He got his degree in spring 2020.)
After graduation, he enrolled at The University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where he picked up his second degree.
“I knew one of the teachers there, and they offered me singing roles and a near-full scholarship,” he says.
Once his formal education was complete, Sung returned to New York and began working for Lucky Supply, where he is in charge of sales and operations.
“I had decided that I didn’t want to be a professional singer because it’s difficult to make a living, and it involves traveling and being away from home for long periods of time,” he says, adding that his recent marriage, to an opera singer, solidified his position.
“At Lucky Supply, I see my role as helping small businesses succeed,” Sung says. “I support my clients by cutting out the middle man to give them cheaper prices.”
Sung’s interest in bowling and opera haven’t waned.
The president of the New York Korean Bowling League, Sung plays every week, scoring an average of only 200 because he doesn’t have much time to practice, and sings in opera productions as they come up.
He sees his passions as feeding into each other, and he hopes at some point to produce operas, manage opera companies or singers or at the very least become an opera patron while continuing his work at Lucky Supply.
“I love opera because it connected me to the world, and I want to help it thrive and grow,” he says. “I want to bring great singers up front because they are what makes opera great. And I want to teach a new generation to appreciate the form as much as I do.”
Sung will, of course, continue to perform.
“I try not to advertise myself,” he says. “I have a lot more work to do before I’m deserving of attention or accolades about my accomplishments.”
He bites into a canelé.
Perfection that deserves an encore.
Copyright 2023 by Nancy A. Ruhling