After hanging out with my artist friend, James Wall, in Tacoma today, I headed home on Highway 99 (north towards Seattle). It was around lunch time now and I was on the hunt for pho (you know the feeling). I must have passed up two pho places before pulling into this one mall strip - the ones that have a nail shop, a teriyaki restaurant, smoke shop (mainly owned by Koreans), a small dive bar on the end, and then of course a pho restaurant. For some strange reason this one called me.
When I got in there, I had this odd feeling of some sort. This gentlemen (Paul Vo... cause he introduced himself to me without me asking his name… really… who does that these days in a Vietnamese or Chinese restaurant???), sits me down. He looked in his mid '50s, a bit tired that day running around. I ordered "hu tieu mi" (yellow egg noodle in a milder broth than pho (comes with bbq-pork and/or seafood)... you guys that have not tried this bowl, give it shot). He brought it out and it was a good sized portion to me. It was good!
Half way through, I get the urge to want to know him more, understand his world. I purposely asked him for cold water. As he comes over I asked "how long have you owned this restaurant?" From there I was going be taken for an amazing inspirational ride!
He looked at me in the eyes and said “It’s been 12 years for us (he, his sister and family are co-owners). I work 7 days a week. 14-16 hours days are normal.” As we were talking, he was running around taking care of people talking to them by their first name, and they replied using his name. I knew he cared and was passionate about his job. His wife is a QA Manager at Boeing with 30 employees under her – outstanding! Yet both where very humble about it.
As I was standing there chatting with Paul, a customer walks up to the counter (Kevin), pulls out his credit card to pay for his lunch. I asked Kevin, “Why do you like coming here?” He simply replies with a smile looking at Paul, “the Pho is good here and I like Paul.” That meant a lot to me! In the restaurant business you don’t survive based on luck – it’s about hard work, good food/product and caring about people! My only caution to him before I left was to ask him to take some time off, even if it’s just a day or two here and there – simply to unplug and re-charge your brain. Cause if you don’t have your health, you can’t accomplish anything else. I come to find that Paul and his sister also owned Khanh’s Garden on Rainier ave. in Seattle from like ’89 – ’99 – one of my favorite restaurants back then.
Paul was the third individual I met in the last 24 hours that inspired the heck out of me… each life story is amazing! Thank you Joseph, James, and Paul… for your resiliency, and courage. You guys inspire me!
Miki is a renowned motivational speaker and author. He appeared in the 2015 Oscar nominated film "The Last Days in Vietnam" directed and produced by Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. He often speaks to others on the ways in which they can better their lives. His history is well documented in the documentary that shares the amazing story of his father Ba Van Nguyen and his bravery during the last few days in the Fall of Saigon. His message is one of enlightenment and courage. Miki has overcome many obstacles as he and his family worked hard to create a life in the United States while their homeland was being torn apart. Through his father’s example of courage and commitment to a better life for his family Miki is inspired to be the best he can be and be of service to others by sharing his and his family’s experiences in an effort to give hope to all refugees who take the enormous risks of leaving everything behind in hopes of a better life.
Miki is available for speaking engagements on a number of topics and also has a new book to be published soon that will offer instruction and inspiration through the recanting of his life and his experiences in this extraordinary world we all call home. For more information visit http://www.mikinguyen.com