By April Dudash
Don't let the strip shopping mall fool you. Inside, steaming bowls of Vietnamese soup and tall, cool glasses of Thai iced tea await. Grilled Ginger is the new kid on the block to the longtime Vietnamese Restaurant just up the street, but its owners are restaurant veterans. In addition to Grilled Ginger, owners Han Nguyen and Thanh Vo also oversee a restaurant back home in Ho Chi Minh City. Kim Son Restaurant is a huge operation with more than 100 employees and seating for 1,000 in beautiful outdoor bamboo huts.
"I didn't have to cook over there," said Vo, who can regularly be found standing over Grilled Ginger's wok, throwing in ingredients. "But it's not stable. It's not safe. Over here is very good for my son. Over here, you have to work with your hands."
The restaurants are separated by an ocean, but the menus are similar. Grilled Ginger customers rave about the authentic pho - try the Pho Dac Biet, a beef, rice and noodle soup for $8.50 - and the Tra Thai Tran Chau, Thai iced tea with boba (tapioca pearls) for $4.50. The shaken beef (Bo Luc Lac) is served with a zesty secret sauce of salt, pepper and lime.
Vo and Nguyen visit their restaurant in Vietnam every few years, leaving day-to-day operations to Vo's younger sister.
"You have to keep developing to make competition for others," Vo said. "We take ideas from America and bring it there, and get some ideas from there."
Vo came to the United States to study computer science at the University of California. Nguyen moved to America after her aunt sponsored her. A family member's marriage to a Vietnam War veteran brought them to Fayetteville.
Nguyen said her family once owned an auto dealership in Vietnam, and they led a comfortable life until the spread of communism threatened it.
"My mom doesn't like to live under communism," said Nguyen. "The law changes. We used to have a very happy and wealthy life."
Her mother, Kim Ngan, works in the restaurant, too, preparing an average of 40 springroll orders a day plus entrees.
It truly is a family business, where Nguyen and Vo take breaks after the lunch rush to visit with their 20-month-old son, GiangKhang, which means "happy family" in Vietnamese. Three waitresses dart around the well-decorated dining room, and the women sometimes wear ao dais, or traditional Vietnamese silk dresses.
"Here, we need to take care of the customer, get them to know us more, get them to know our food," Vo said. "They come here and go to some other nation."