Call it youthful bravado, unrehearsed honesty, or sheer ability to BS with confidence. Whatever you call it, Jennifer Nyugen Nguyen*, the 24-year-old owner of Tay Do Restaurant in Falls Church, has it in spades. Here’s an edited transcript of my chat with the engaging, shoot-from-the-lip owner of a restaurant/nightclub that’s trying to break from the Eden Center’s stoic tradition of black-lacquered tables in a white-washed box.
CP: Many consider this work long, hot, hard. How’d you get interested in the restaurant business?
JN: It’s not that hard. Seriously. I’ve been with my parents [who owned the Eden Center restaurant Hau Giang before retiring] for 10 years, me and my sister. We’ve been in this thing for 10 years. From the other person’s point of view, they might think the restaurant [business] is hard, long hours, and everything. But if you have everything under control, it’s not that bad. It’s mostly relaxation.
CP: How do you make the job easy? I think most people think it’s hard.
JN: If you have everything under control, if you have enough people in the back to handle the amount of people coming in at the same time, and then you have people in front running, it’s not that hard. If you’re short of people to do it, then it becomes stressful. Otherwise, you know your ingredients. You know what your customers like. You’ve been doing that like for 10 years. It’s the same process over and over and over. Unless one of my workers falls sick, then I jump in and cook. But every day, I open up the store and then I just go into the office and just sit and watch the people at lunchtime, and that’s it.
CP: So you spent six years learning how to cook Vietnamese food from your mother?
JN: In less than a year, you learn everything. It’s the same food. It’s like McDonald’s fast food. It’s really fast here. It’s really a few basic items, and then the other items are just from that item—just add a little more to it.
CP: What do you think are the basic items?
JN: You have like grill stuff, soup stuff, stir-fry stuff, and appetizers, and that’s it. And from those dishes, you can make like 100 other dishes.
CP: Who created your menu?
JN: The menu, some of the stuff is my creation and my dad’s, but most of the Vietnamese food is repetitious. It’s just the quality and the quantity of the food….Mine is very authentic.
CP: What does authentic mean to you?
JN: Better than the Vietnamese food in Vietnam. I went back over there, and my food is definitely better than the one in Vietnam.
CP: In what way?
JN: Quality. Freshness, and I cook every order to its order. I don’t precook anything. I don’t grill the meat there and then put it in the microwave. Everything’s fresh….A lot of people talk about Vietnamese food back there. I mean, it’s good….They don’t keep doing the same cooking every day. It’s just more like sell it, and that’s it. Because they know it’s a bunch of tourists coming, and they’ll come back. So I really [don’t understand] the big fuss about Vietnam.
CORRECTION, 7/26, 3:40 P.M.: Due to an error by poster Tim Carman, Nguyen’s name was misspelled in the original post.