Dinner and lunch at Quang Restaurant is calculated chaos: tables full of diners digging into the generous portions of Vietnamese food, the entrance overflowing with people waiting for a table or grabbing takeout. It’s hard to believe this Eat Street staple began 30 years ago as a four-table spot across the street. But while the restaurant has grown, one thing hasn’t changed: the same familiar faces are still running the place.
But let’s begin at the beginning: Quang restaurant was started by Lung Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant who came to the United States in 1978 with her husband, Quang, and six kids (a seventh was born in the US). “There was a Lutheran church that sponsored us from St. Cloud,” says Sen Reed, Tran’s daughter and one of the restaurant’s current co-owners. “My dad worked at Gold ‘n Plump and my mom was a seamstress at ShopKo. The church sponsored a lot of Vietnamese families, so there was a network of people. Every weekend they would congregate at our house, and my mom would make so much food.”
In 1983, Quang passed away, and the family moved to Orange County, California, to join Tran’s younger brother. The move was short-lived. “You go from Minnesota nice to LA,” says Reed. “We were not used to it. The teachers were mean, the kids were mean. We were begging her to move back to Minnesota.” Though the family stayed in California for only six months, it was there that Tran got her first taste of the industry, working in a Vietnamese restaurant. “She picked up a lot, and from there she thought, ‘I can do this.’”
They moved back to Minnesota, lived in a small apartment with a family friend, and did their best to get by. “It was just Mom, with a single income, and there was no way she could afford to take care of us on her own,” Reed says. So the kids pitched in, assembling sewing kits and first aid kits after school and into the evening, and baking Vietnamese pastries on the weekends to sell to Asian grocery stores. “This was our life for year. There was no high school socialization, there weren’t friends coming over. It was being around a drill sergeant 24-7,” Reed says. “We always joke that if we didn’t have each other we would all be crazy, because how do you put a kid through that and expect them to come out normal? We became each other’s friends.”
Tran saved up and in September 1989, she opened a small, four-table bakery across the street from the current Quang location, selling Vietnamese pastries and what’s now refer to as “street food.” The kids worked there after school and weekends, helming the register, baking, and juggling demanding restaurant tasks. “We didn’t know anything about advertising or think to advertise. We just opened the doors and said, ‘OK! We’re open!’” Reed says. The restaurant grew popular through word of mouth. Tran gradually took over small sections of the neighboring Asian grocery store, owned by the building’s landlords. In this way, the restaurant expanded from four tables to nine, then to 13 and then 20. Finally, 10 years after opening, the family heard a restaurant across the street was up for sale, and made the move into its current address.
Today, the restaurant is run by five of Tran’s seven children: Reed, Ann McRoy, Heather Mandanas, Kue Pham and Charles Truong. Though the matriarch officially retired several years ago (and doesn’t like to give interviews), she’s hardly kicking back, instead making regular stops at the restaurant. “She’s still managing everything, getting her fingers in everything. She’s still very involved,” says Truong. That hands-on approach has been passed down to her children, who manage everything aspect of the business, from the front of house team to marketing and social media to making the food. It’s an approach to which Reed attributes the restaurant’s 30 year run. “We joke, ‘Why do other restaurant owners have so much time on their hands?’ You go to their restaurants and you never see them. We’re here day in and day out, 12-hour days. And there are enough of us that we can rotate and still have a work-life balance — kind of.”
At the heart of the operation is the food, of course, a menu of Vietnamese dishes with a Chinese influence mixed in, both cultures paying homage to the family’s heritage. “Dad’s parents were from China, and they came to Vietnam,” Truong says. “And it’s all Mom’s recipes that she learned from her mom, who was a wedding caterer in Vietnam.”
And the restaurant has built a devoted fan base. “Quang is not only an institution here, it is a great example of what delicious food can do,” says Gavin Kaysen, executive chef and owner of Spoon & Stable and Bellecour. “In this case, they have made themselves a legendary restaurant due to their consistency and yum factor.”
“Quang represents a true successful immigrant story in America,” says John Ng, executive chef and owner of Zen Box Izakaya. “One of the few family-run ethnic restaurants that brought their tastes, flavors and culture to Minnesota. They are not only a restaurant, but also an interactive educator to the public about Vietnam through their food.”
Today Quang Restaurant is in the midst of a facelift.
The plans accommodate the growing number of to-go and delivery patrons as well as diners waiting for a table. While it will remain open for the majority of the project, a weeklong construction closure earlier this winter allowed the entire extended family — all 33 of them — to escape to Cabo. The family vacation is a relatively new tradition, one the family developed to combat the challenges of running a business together. “We work so hard as a family, and we see each other every day but we don’t spend time with each other and get to know each other,” Reed says. “And the kids are growing up so fast. So we thought you know, we should take a trip every year, as a family. Let’s start to enjoy this.”
With family as the force behind the business, it’s fitting that the next generation is getting involved as well. Both Truong and Reed’s sons work at the restaurant now, bussing tables and working the register, and will soon head into the kitchen to learn the recipes. According to Andrew, Truong’s son, the best part of the gig is working with family. “It can be hard, but it’s fun spending time with family, bonding with aunts and uncles,” he says. And, like Twin Cities food lovers, he feels awed and inspired by the restaurant’s three decade tenure. “It shows how much work and time they’ve put into this restaurant,” he says. “To see how successful it is now, it’s just amazing.”