Dan Nguyen is the manager at a little piece of culinary heaven called Lang Van — or "my country" in Vietnamese — on the corner of Shamrock Drive. Four years ago, she made the leap from waitress to restaurant owner, something she still celebrates every September with her husband, cousins and sister (who work alongside her). She prepares traditional Vietnamese cuisine such as pho and even enjoys recommending tasty dishes to the apprehensive eater. When asked about what she aspired to accomplish as a young woman, she insists that cooking in her own restaurant is her idea of living the dream.
Creative Loafing: How has owning your own restaurant shaped your life?
Dan Nguyen: I have always wanted to own my own restaurant because I love working with people so much. I just love them and they love me, too. Before I became manager of the restaurant, I was a waitress for the previous owner; she moved to California. I saved my money and now I take care of the whole business — me and my husband and my sister and cousins. I loved [the old owner] a lot and when she left, I told her, "Don't worry, I'll take care of everything." My family and I all come together for the restaurant. With seven people in the kitchen, food comes together very quickly because we're family. Sometimes I eat lunch at home and try a little of everything I think customers might like. If I like it, I tell a customer to try it, too. When a new customer comes, I ask, "Do you like chicken, beef, tofu?" I have a lot of vegetarian customers and so I might suggest a dish with lots of tofu but bring out an appetizer cut in pieces for everybody to share first. My customers always tell me, "You're so fun; you laugh a lot." I know my customers so well, sometimes I even dream about them — customers from 10 years ago!
What's so special about eating Vietnamese food?
It is very, very healthy — no oil, low fat. It's skinny food. [laughs] Customers love [Vietnamese food]. I love cooking it for my family — I have a boy and a girl at home and they love pho. I cook the yellow bean cake, number 60 on the menu, [or] stir-fry noodle, number 45 on the menu, and noodle with BBQ pork. Also, there is a process to our food. We sit, we enjoy the food and then we enjoy conversation and coffee afterward.
With every day spent working at the restaurant and keeping your customers happy, how do you keep your energy?
I eat a lot of rice. Also, a lot of vegetables, a lot of tofu and seafood. I also drink a lot of water, but most importantly, I have one iced coffee every day. Sometimes I'm tired, but I do everything for my customers, still.