The family-owned Lotus Restaurant is returning to Uptown this spring, giving the loyal following in Loring Park a second option to stretch out at the former GĀME Sports Bar.
“We’re always at max capacity. We hope to alleviate some stress over there,” said family member Yoom Nguyen.
Regulars in a recent lunch crowd said they had been coming for 20-plus years, 30-plus years, or simply a “long time.” The restaurant designer who originally painted the logo on the wall paid a visit. A patron at the register commented that staff always remember her name. A customer from Denver said he visits just enough that staff recognize him.
“It’s as good of food as you’ll ever find,” said customer Steven Grimshaw.
“It’s nice to know the people who are cooking your food. It’s like cooking at home, but one step better,” said Benita Guy.
“That’s going to be the hard part, to bring that feeling over here,” Nguyen said. “It’s kind of scary, but we know we can do it.”
They’re converting GĀME’s former penalty box at 2841 Hennepin Ave. into a fresh juice stand with bubble tea. They plan to brighten up the exterior and add Lotus’s trademark neon.
They’re exploring new ideas for the large parking lot, perhaps providing space for the farmers market vendors that supply Lotus with produce.
Lotus’s former Uptown location closed in 2012 during renovation of Calhoun Square. The owners intended to return, Nguyen said, but the rent increased six-fold under new mall ownership. He said the only way to make the business viable would be to add liquor, and they didn’t want to go that direction.
The family still isn’t interested in the bar scene.
“There is enough of that in Uptown already,” Nguyen said.
Instead they plan to focus on food: stacked banh mi available to-go, rice bowls, stir fry and salad bowls.
“Everything is made from scratch, and you taste that in every bite,” Nguyen said.
One new addition to the late-night menu is the “phorito,” modeled after pho soup and packed with a choice of protein, lime, cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce and broth for dipping.
“My mom makes it every morning. She’s the only one who touches the broth,” Nguyen said.
Tri and Le Tran opened the original Lotus restaurant in Uptown in 1983, followed by the Loring Park restaurant in 1984. They staffed the restaurant with new immigrants and refugees, including the Nguyen family. Trung Nguyen and Van Vo left Vietnam in 1979, traveling on a boat of refugees to the Philippines, where they lived for two years before moving to Minnesota with two-year-old Yoom.
Vo got her start at Lotus cleaning windows and scrubbing floors. She moved on to make egg rolls in the kitchen, and eventually she and Trung took over ownership of the Loring Park location in 1987.
“I was raised here,” Yoom said. “My brothers were born in a wok, pretty much.”
He remembers sleeping on bags of rice under the counter. The wait staff were his babysitters.
The business is still a family affair, and the owners’ nine grandkids work at the restaurant during the summer.
“Whenever kids are getting off track, we bring them here,” Yoom said.
Yoom said his parents share their home and even fund rehab for employees when needed. If someone steals from the business, he said, their first question is why?
“They are very special people,” he said.
One of their older customers who eats at Lotus every day didn’t show up for a week. The staff became concerned and called the police.
“He walked in and the whole restaurant stopped,” Yoom said. “He went on vacation without letting us know.”
Yoom said Lotus brings in a diverse crowd, and it’s common to see someone without a home sitting next to a lawyer, who is sitting next to a professional athlete. Celebrities like Dave Chappelle stop when in town.
“We’re a perfect example of Minneapolis and how it’s a big melting pot,” he said. “…Everybody goes above and beyond. It’s the feeling of being welcomed and being at home.”