Famous Vietnamese eatery set to reopen

February 23, 2011 2:39:54 AM PST
A year ago this month, a Houston restaurant that served loyal customers for more than three decades burned down. Mai's bills itself as the first Vietnamese restaurant in Houston and it's been a long road back for the family. The family says the restaurant will reopen Saturday, April 16, and they've learned a lot about themselves and their customers in the past year.

It's a new day for Mai Nguyen and her family.

"I cannot imagine how life would be without the business," said Mai, the restaurant's owner.

"It can still be the hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop type business," general manager Anna Pham said.

Now spanning three generations, the restaurant Anna's grandmother started with family recipes in 1978 has come a long way, especially in the last year.

It was just before lunch February 15, 2010 when a wok fire quickly consumed the two-story building.

"I don't cry, but my heart was broken," Mai said.

Employees and customers ran out, watching the two-alarm fire destroy the restaurant.

"Every night when I would go to sleep, I was thinking about it. I just kept thinking about that day," Mai said.

Rebuilding has been a long process. Now with every brick laid and board carried, the mother and daughter can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

More than half of the staff that worked here the day of the fire is returning.

"When I see all my employees coming back, it's touching to me," Mai said.

Only four walls and the floor were kept from the old restaurant. Additions include a bar and second-story seating. But the family that's been serving Houston for three decades hopes the new look only adds to some old memories.

"I don't want people to be discouraged and think that, 'oh we, burned down and came back and we're fancy now.' We're not. We're the same restaurant with the same concepts, same menu and the same focus," Anna said.

The restaurant has also been known for its long and late night hours. Once it reopens, those 18-hour days will continue.