Thuy Nguyen is no stranger to the arduous process of moving.
The longtime Bainbridge Island restauranteur, owner and operator of the popular Vietnamese hotspot Thuy’s Pho House, which has occupied several spaces around Winslow throughout the past decade, came to America from Phan Thiet, Vietnam in the ’70s, at a very young age, and has since lived a lot of places.
Some were moves of choice based on opportunity. But others, like her family’s flight from Vietnam, and her business’ recent eviction from its old home on Madison Avenue, were unpleasantly necessitated.
“I got pushed out,” Nguyen said. “I lost my lease last November. I basically got kicked out of the spot. The landlord wanted somebody in, basically it is my understanding, to fix up the place. I know the new owner spent a lot of time fixing up the place and it’s a constant issue because the building is old.”
But after a short unavoidable closure, she’s up and running again, this time in what she hopes is her forever home, the former location of Fork & Spoon (120 Madrone Lane North).
“I’m so thankful for that opportunity,” Nguyen said. “It’s a beautiful space and I have amazing neighbors. The landlord is also very amazing. I’ve been very blessed.”
The new restaurant features both indoor and outdoor seating and window service for quick to-go ordering and takeout pickups.
Thuy’s triumphant return began on July 26, and it’s now open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday (except Wednesday, which is window/takeout service only from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The new menu features all the old favorites — including pho, of course, salads (noodle and traditional), bahn mi sandwiches, jasmine rice congee — and also a new array of bubble tea flavors and dim sum (available Saturday and Sunday only).Call 206-842-1769 or search “Thuy’s Pho House” on Facebook or “thuys.bain bridge” on Instagram to learn more.
If you didn’t hear about the grand reopening, don’t feel too badly. It was kept low-key on purpose, Nguyen said.
“We just quietly opened up,” she explained. “I just needed that downtime, that slow time, to work out the kinks and train people. I have a lot of young, inexperienced staff that this is their first-time job. There’s a lot of training that’s involved and right now my focus has been in the kitchen.
“My children are here to help now that they’re home from school,” she added, “but come the next few weeks, they’re going to be gone. So I’m hiring more people in the kitchen.”
Thuy’s is accepting applications; restaurant/cooking experience is preferred.
Aside from shepherding a staff of mostly greenhorns, though, things are going well down on Madrone, and, with the addition of some kitchen equipment, will only get be better.
“Right now I don’t have a full kitchen,” Nguyen said. “I do have a small kitchen outside that my landlord allowed me to start with. So I had to get a permit for that. I’m able to work with the space and just offer some of the favorites right now.
“In the near future I would love to get some awnings, and also I do have permission already to get a walk-in installed. Once I get that in, I know that my life will be easier.”
Window service has been especially popular lately, Nguyen said, as people are in the mood to sit outside and enjoy the sun.
“That’s been well received so far,” she said. “And whoever wants to dine in can come in and dine in.”
Of doing business in Winslow, a strange combo of small-town chic and tourist destination, with two very different groups of clientele to serve, Nguyen said she does her best to give everybody what they want, whether they’re coming back again or just passing through.
“There are a lot of expectations that go into people coming into the restaurant,” she said. “I know I’m not going to please everyone; that’s just the way it is. But I hope the people that do come in enjoy what I have to offer.
“From my first time doing business here, my focus has always been on local people,” she said. “You have to take care of your local people. You have got to cater to the locals. What do they want? What are they asking for? And what can you do? There’s a give-and-take relationship there, so that’s always been my focus.”
Still, there’s no zip code snobbery here.
“The tourists are great,” Nguyen said. “I think they’re good for the island. We don’t have the kind of volume that Seattle does, so when they do come here, it doesn’t just benefit me, it benefits everybody.
“I know it’s frustrating for a lot of people, but we need this.”
Despite the hurdles of so often relocating her business, Nguyen said things seem to have worked out for the best — though she’s never been one to wallow.
“I came to the United States when I was about 9 years old or 10 years old, so my perspective on life is a lot different than other people,” she said. “I’ve seen things as a child, I’ve experienced things. I talk about this to my kids all the time. I say I’m so thankful for the little things I have because it could be worse and it is a lot worse for a lot of people. Look at what we see on TV now and how blessed we are as a family that we were able to come here and be welcomed and have this opportunity 40-something years later.”
She’s a tough lady in a tough racket, but the fact that her business has continued to thrive despite numerous moves certainly speaks to the popularity and the food — and Nguyen herself.
“I do have [visiting] costumers who say, ‘Every year we come back here we look for you,’” she said. “It makes me feel good.
“It’s a tough business, but I love it and I have a deep passion for it.”
Passion that’s often expressed through renovation.
The menu at the new location features, in addition to new items, a larger range of gluten-free options, just one more way Nguyen said she’s responding to what the customers are asking for.
“It was really well received because the recipes and the ingredients I put into my food, I call it clean,” she said. “I say clean because I just add pure ingredients, kosher salt, I don’t add any MSG to my cooking, and, in the last seven years, people are always asking me, ‘What can I get that’s gluten-free?’
“With Asian food, most of it is naturally gluten-free, but this time I just took it step further. I have gluten-free soy sauce, gluten-free hoisin sauce, all my sauces are gluten-free.
“I hope my food is the same, but just doing that little extra — gluten-free ingredients — makes a huge difference for people.”