Meet Your Merchant: Restaurateur brings a bit of Vietnam to Dayton
When Tommy Nguyen and his family moved to the United States from Vietnam in 1991, they carried with them the hope of one day of starting the family restaurant business in their new home.
Nearly 20 years later, Nguyen and his two brothers own Vietnamese restaurants in Reno, Carson City and now Dayton, after he opened Little Saigon Restaurant in August.
Nguyen, 33, and his brothers attended high school and college in Northern Nevada and worked manufacturing jobs in Carson City, saving up for what has turned out to be a small empire of eateries that serve one of Vietnam’s signature dishes: pho.
“When we came to the United States we worked in manufacturing to earn a living,” said Nguyen, whose brothers own the Pho Country restaurants in Carson City and Reno.
Pho is comprised of a beef broth, which takes about eight hours to make, rice noodles and cuts of beef or chicken and is garnished with bean sprouts, lime, various herbs and peppers, which are added by the customer.
Nguyen said Dayton customers still are warming up to the popular Vietnamese noodle soup, which is why his menu features a variety of “fusion” Chinese dishes, such as General Tso’s chicken, and Thai dishes such as pad Thai.
“Vietnamese food is kind of new for the Dayton community,” Nguyen said. “The community is not used to it yet, they’re used to Chinese food.”
Nguyen, after all, opened his restaurant in a former Chinese restaurant.
He said more than 80 percent of his sales are Chinese-style dishes, “but we try to let them know about the Vietnamese food.”
Meanwhile, the holiday season proved to be slow for the fledgling restaurant, but business picked up in January, Nguyen said, with about half of his clientele eating in and the other half ordering their food to go.
“Mostly people work in Carson City, drive home and come here and pick it up,” he said.
Nguyen has gone back to his home country, most recently five years ago, to see family and to eat the local fare, combing for new culinary ideas.
As for the pho, he said he thinks more and more people will warm up to the savory dish.
“Pho you can eat any time, morning or evening,” he said. “I can see the customer come here and eat for lunch, and come back later.”