Charles works the register. Little brother Daniel is general manager. Sister Khue is in the back, generating new recipes. Youngest sister Sen stays up front and handles marketing. Three more siblings help out, too, and occasionally get a boost from their second cousin, who manages a hair salon upstairs.
Together, they are the small army that’s made Quang — and steaming bowls of pho — the Eat Street establishments they are today. But none of it would ever have happened without the person they call “Mama Quang,” their Vietnamese mother who started the restaurant to keep the family afloat after tragedy.
She’s not as much a part of day-to-day operations as she once was. But Mama Quang is still at the restaurant every day, peeking over shoulders, asking questions. Quality control.
It’s always been in her nature to ensure things are the best they can be.
While growing up in Vietnam, she was the oldest of 16. The family was poor; that’s what happens when there are 16 kids. She was as much an older sister as a mother.
Mama Quang ended up in St. Cloud. Together with her husband, her eventual restaurant’s namesake, she had seven children. She spent her days as a seamstress, work she was good at and didn’t require much knowledge of English. Things were going smoothly.
But then her husband had a stroke. He died shortly afterward.
Mama Quang pulled the family together the only way she knew how: by getting everyone to help out. For a long time, she continued sewing. The kids helped put together emergency kits.
In the meantime, she cooked on the weekends. It wasn’t originally to prepare for opening a restaurant, but friends noted how good her food was. They nudged her in that direction.
Eventually, she moved to California for six short months to pick up skills while working at a Vietnamese restaurant. She moved back to Minnesota in the late ’80s. In 1989, Quang opened.
The rest is fast-moving history: The original four-table deli became a hit for its fresh food. A larger building across the street was bought in 1998. In 2000, the current, spacious Quang opened. It survived the post-Sept. 11 down economy. It’s gotten stronger during the recession, bolstered by an affordable menu.
And there’s no sign of any end to this story. The long-hours working children have made sure of that.
Says Sen, the youngest sister who was 12 when Quang first opened: “We’ve been blessed. We’ve really been blessed.”
Cuisine: Traditional Vietnamese
Price range: $6–$10
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, Wednesday–Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sunday
Address: 2719 Nicollet Ave. S.
Sen Reed couldn’t make up her mind. Having been asked to pick out her one favorite item on the menu of her family’s restaurant was too difficult.
Too many good options.
But she tried, starting with emphatic support of pho, Quang’s ever-popular meat-and-noodle soups. Pho can be ordered with a variety of proteins and comes topped with basil and a side of sprouts. It’s Reed’s comfort food — steaming, warm and light going down, it’s perfect for a Minnesota climate.
“I never get sick of it,” she said.
But when she’s working — especially during busy hours — she can’t afford her pho to go cold. So at those times, she said, it’s better to have a salad by her side. One of her favorites is bun thit, cha gio, a vegetable and grilled beef salad that comes with a crunchy Vietnamese egg roll right on top.
She also couldn’t deny the deliciousness of Quang’s overstuffed spring rolls. The majority of the restaurant’s patrons order them as appetizers, she said. That’s for good reasons: They’re tasty — and huge. Almost too big to finish sometimes, Reed said.
What does Eat Street mean to you?
The original hole-in-the-wall Quang opened long before the Eat Street moniker arrived. Sen Reed said the label might guide some out-of-towners to the restaurant, but “I don’t know if our business would be affected if it went away.”