By Madelyn Gosselin
Ngoc describes herself and her family as “born in Vietnam, escaped to Japan, and raised in Nebraska.” In a discussion over the phone, Ngoc explains that her family “lost everything” after the Vietnam war:
“I come from a family of very, very strong-willed, independent, savvy women. [After the war], the women basically had to fend for themselves. All of a sudden, we had no money coming in. The women in our family had to figure out ‘what are we going to do to make a living?’”
After relocating to Nebraska, Ngoc’s family opened a cafe and billiard hall that quickly accrued positive attention in their community for their cuisine. Ngoc credits the cafe’s stroke of genius to her mother and aunts:
“When we came to the states, the women in our family– my mom, my aunts– they were very savvy in terms of what else they could do to bring in more income to the family,” she said.
When it comes to her inspiration for building Mamma Hai’s menu, Ngoc shared that the history behind her recipes is based on her mother’s recipes; Mamma Hai’s pork recipe is “half [Ngoc’s mother’s recipe, half [hers].” And the quality of Mamma Hai’s cuisine is up to par with what Ngoc’s family serves, too:
“Everything we serve here is what we would eat at home.”
Mamma Hai makes fresh cold-cut meats each week to serve in their renowned Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich similar to a sub.
Ngoc’s support and inspiration for her restaurant success come from the women in her life, and when asked what advice she would give women just starting in the restaurant industry, she had three main pointers:
- When amending your family recipes for your restaurant, talk to your family! Interview family members about their favorite recipes, memories, and what makes each dish special. Ngoc says of her research process before creating the menu for Mamma Hai, “ Not only are [her family members] smart and savvy, but they know what tastes good.”
- Take your time– “the worst thing to do is jump into a business.” Ngoc’s Mamma Hai grew in stages, she shared, beginning at With Love in Syracuse before moving full-time to Salt City Market. She says she took care of her business by enrolling in business and finance courses.
- Talk to women in the industry for advice! Ngoc shares that just like life, the restaurant business can be vastly different to navigate for women. She says that one of the best things you can do for your women-owned business is “learn other women’s style of leadership and customer service” and discover what elements of leadership have been successful for other women in similar positions.