It was a snowy morning and the scent of a delicious smelling simmering stock was wafting from Steveston Village Vietnamese Restaurant’s kitchen. Phung Nguyen was hard at work preparing for the lunch crowd while her son, Justin Nguyen, spoke with me about his family’s successful business. In partnership with his mother, father (Son), and brother (Richard), the family has introduced Steveston to a cuisine that is bursting with flavour and has quickly become one of the village’s most popular dining spots.
Donning his signature bow tie, Justin Nguyen is often the first person you will encounter when you arrive at the restaurant. He is absolutely charming and is bound to greet you with a genuine warm welcome. Why the bow tie? He says he has always admired this fashion and decided to wear them on a regular basis when the business opened. Knowing that this would be an expensive wardrobe accessory, his girlfriend volunteered to make them. To date Justin Nguyen has amassed 80 bow ties. He hopes that over the course of their lives together his collection will expand to one thousand.
Originally from Nha Trang (a coastal city on the south central coast of Vietnam, known for its beautiful beaches and scuba diving), the Nguyen family fled their homeland as boat people in 1985.
Their story could easily be made into a film. Seeking a better life for his wife and their four young children, Son Nguyen managed to find a boat and offered space to as many families as possible to join them when they set out to sea. Without an experienced skipper onboard, Son Nguyen was left with the terrifying task of navigating by the light of a star. After a number of days, good fortune came their way. A passing cargo ship rescued the boat’s occupants from this precarious situation and transported them to the Philippines.
Phung and Son Nguyen eked out a living by opening a small café in the Philippines, and saved money while they sought refugee status in Canada. Upon arriving in Calgary they opened a restaurant and settled into the cold Canadian climate. Eventually they moved to Abbotsford, where Justin Nguyen says they opened one of the city’s first Vietnamese restaurants. Two of his siblings continue to reside in Calgary, his sister (Hong), and his brother (Paul), who operates a food truck and sells Vietnamese submarine sandwiches.
Justin Nguyen brought his parents to Steveston for a visit and they immediately fell in love with the area. They were intending to retire, but could not resist the opportunity to locate a restaurant here. Justin Nguyen gave up his career at UBC to join them as a business partner. Steveston Village Vietnamese Restaurant opened in November 2012. This is the fifth restaurant that the Nguyens have owned and operated.
They are thrilled to be a part of Steveston. Customers and local merchants have made them feel so welcome in the community. His parents were initially attracted to the scenic beauty, and felt very much at home with so many Vietnamese involved in the local fishing industry.
Three clocks are mounted on the restaurant’s south wall, set for three time zones: Nha Trang, Steveston and Paris. Some of their customers question, “Why, Paris?” as they are unaware Vietnam was a former French colony. As a result, there is some French influence in Vietnamese food. Justin Nguyen uses the examples of Vietnamese submarine sandwiches (made with baguette), some of the ingredients found in pho, and the method in which Vietnamese coffee is prepared.
Traditional Vietnamese cooking is known for its fresh ingredients and minimal use of oil. Fresh herbs (such as basil, mint, and coriander) balanced with vegetables, meats, seafood and a selective use of spices make it a very healthy cuisine.
Justin Nguyen says that until the 1990s North Americans were relatively unfamiliar with food from his country, however people have made up for lost time. The establishment has a loyal and diverse customer base. He is particularly excited to see teenagers frequenting the restaurant and appreciates their willingness to sample new tastes.
The menu is filled with temptations. A variety of starters include homemade fried wontons, pork, chicken and vegetable spring rolls and salad rolls. If you are curious to taste an array of starters, the sample platter contains spring rolls, salad rolls, along with BBQ chicken, pork, beef and prawn skewers.
Stevestonites often refer to the restaurant simply as ‘Pho’, and indeed this is one of the restaurant’s specialties. Eight varieties of this popular and delicious noodle soup are featured. Accompanied by a side of bean sprouts and basil leaves, simply add them to your steaming bowl and you are in for a big treat. The chicken noodle pho (made with local free range chicken) is especially satisfying.
Other menu highlights include homemade won ton soup, a number of rice dishes (barbeque lemongrass chicken, sate beef, tamarind prawns), vermicelli noodle bowls (stir fried lemongrass beef or chicken, barbeque pork patties with spring rolls), along with stir fries (seafood, chicken, beef and vegetarian options are all offered), Vietnamese style Pad Thai, and fried rice dishes.
Be sure to save room for dessert. A meal at Steveston Village Vietnamese Restaurant is not complete until you have tasted the toasted coconut cake and tiramisu made daily by Justin Nguyen. As the busy manager and accountant, how he finds time to create these masterpieces is a complete mystery, however they are not to be missed. Justin Nguyen decided that in addition to deep-fried bananas with ice cream (the delectable traditional Vietnamese dessert), that a few more selections would be a nice addition to the menu. He began experimenting with recipes that appealed to him. It turns out they have become extremely popular, and people can’t stop talking about the coconut cake.
Positive word of mouth is vital for any business, and Steveston Village Vietnamese Restaurant excels in this department. With friendly and attentive service and excellent food, Steveston is buzzing about this wonderful addition to our community.
Steveston Village Vietnamese Restaurant
120-12480 No. 1 Rd
Richmond BC V7E 0A2