Growing up, my mom cooked with a family of nine kids and continued to increase her culinary prowess as she got older. After having six kids of her own, she cooked three meals a day, along with going to work as a chef doing dinner shifts at a popular Vietnamese restaurant back home. So naturally, the thought of bringing food and family together in our own business seemed to be the way to go. And opened a business we did.
To go along with the seemingly unspoken rule that a Vietnamese restaurant should have the name “Saigon” in it somewhere, our parents decided on the name Saigon Grill.
And thus the legacy began.
Well, not really. But at least people knew what kind of food we served, right? Vietnamese food isn’t really all that common though, so customers still didn’t know what to expect. Granted, we didn’t exactly serve “authentic” Vietnamese food, but we made a few things my mom had prepared for us growing up. The most popular food item amongst my mom’s impressive repertoire (seriously, she transforms food into utter deliciousness…you’d want to eat constantly) is the egg roll. Vietnamese egg roll.
Yes, these egg rolls were a hot item back in high school. And also at my dad’s office parties. At my tennis banquets we held after the season was over, the rolls were the first thing to go as people approached the buffet-style spread. My mom would send my dad off to work with trays of egg rolls which would all come back empty when he got home. Filled with pork, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, and clear bean thread noodles (along with some secret spices), these deep-fried rolls can be highly addictive. If you’re not a vegetarian.
At our restaurant, it was no exception. Mom’s egg rolls sold with just about every order of food. Which made for a lot of egg roll making and wrapping in the kitchen in the back. With a huge bowl of filling plopped at the center of the table, my mom, grandma, sisters, and I would wrap until we were scraping the filling off the bottom of the bowl.
If not in school, I would go over to the restaurant (located in the mall food court) and help out. I worked mainly in the front with my sisters as we served each customer and shouted orders to my dad as he cooked each dish to order. Weekends were usually spent there, as I manned the counter whilst gradually accumulating the smell of egg rolls, fried potatoes, and remnants of teriyaki chicken, firecracker shrimp and Saigon beef on my person. Needless to say, I probably inadvertently did a wonderful marketing job for our restaurant as I meandered around the mall on my breaks.
But apparently I did an inadequate job. We had to close after being open for almost a year at our location. The mall wanted our space to build what is now a Barnes and Noble bookstore. They asked us to move to another location where they would increase the rent we had to pay. So we just closed up shop.
My dad still dreams of opening his own restaurant. An actual sit down full service place with my mom cooking and the whole family helping out. After experiencing working with my family during that time (although it was short-lived), it really made me appreciate small businesses and local spots that thrive on the local economy.