Trinh Nguyen standing with her children

Keeping Traditions Alive: Trinh Nguyen's Journey from Vietnam to Owning a Restaurant in Oregon

June 24, 2024

Trinh Nguyen, a client of the Mt. Hood Community College’s Small Business Development Center, runs a successful Vietnamese restaurant in Gresham, Oregon called Pho-licious. She shares how her journey from Vietnam to the US shaped her vision of preserving her family’s culinary traditions.

Born in Vietnam during the war, Nguyen’s family fled to the US in 1980 seeking a better life. Her journey was far from easy. “We left Vietnam, and our first stop was Thailand, where we stayed in a refugee camp for almost a year,” Nguyen said.

When they arrived in the US, they faced major cultural and language barriers.

“We were very culture-shocked, lost, and homesick. Both my parents and myself didn’t know the language,” she said.

Nguyen’s determination to learn English was evident as she described her rigorous study habits.

“I sat and studied all day, all night. I didn’t go to bed; I slept on my desk,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen’s desire to start her own restaurant is deeply rooted in her family’s history. Her parents opened their restaurant in 1984.

“I grew up working with them in the restaurant business,” Nguyen said.

Although her parents retired in the early 2000s, Nguyen always harbored a desire to pick up the legacy where they left off.

“I’ve always wanted to continue the tradition, food that my parents cooked,” she said.

Nguyen got her chance in November when a great location became available, prompting her to make her move.

Nguyen’s restaurant not only serves food but also embodies the rich traditions passed down through generations. “My parents’ recipes come from generations. Their food is unique and authentic,” she shares. Despite the plethora of Vietnamese restaurants in Oregon, Nguyen noticed a decline in authentic flavors over the years.

“A lot of restaurants selling pho... it’s just not the same. So that made me want to start my restaurant and share the recipes that my parents had been using,” Nguyen said.

The support Nguyen received on her restaurant’s grand opening day was overwhelming.

“I didn’t think that I would be selling everything out. The hall was packed with people, and the support from family, friends, colleagues, and the community was heartwarming,” she said.

Not only does Nguyen run a restaurant, she also works as a mortgage loan officer. Nguyen specializes in helping low and moderate-income clients, particularly within the Asian community, at U.S. Bank.

“This restaurant is my second full-time job. I’m here Monday to Saturday, and I work side by side with my mortgage job,” she said. Despite the challenges, Nguyen finds joy in her dual roles, often meeting clients at her restaurant. Nguyen credits the Small Business Development Center for providing crucial resources and support.

“I took the QuickBooks class and a business plan tutorial. It was an eye-opener for me,” Nguyen said. These classes have been instrumental in helping her manage the financial aspects of her business effectively.

Looking ahead, Nguyen’s goals for her restaurant are simple yet profound.

“I want to keep providing the best quality, tasty, delicious food at affordable prices,” she said.

Her advice for aspiring restaurateurs is to do thorough research and understand the community’s needs.

“Research, know your population, and make sure you know what you’re serving,” Nguyen said.

You can enjoy a tasty bowl of pho at Nguyen’s restaurant Pho-licious at 458 SE 158th Ave., Portland, Oregon.

Learn more about the Small Business Development Center