The City of Ate Interview: DaLat Owner Khanh Nguyen on the Power and Problems of Pho
Khanh Nguyen had a successful career as a local attorney when he decided to take a little time off, a sabbatical of sorts, between projects. During that time, he immersed himself in traditional Vietnamese cooking, spending months trying to perfect various recipes, mainly concentrating on pho, which is highly relevant considering that when he was just 8 years old, a bowl of pho saved his life.
The months off with time spent cooking turned into a year and, eventually, Nguyen confessed to his wife that what he wanted open a restaurant. She reminded him that on their first date many years ago he told her his life-long dream was to open a restaurant. With that marital nod for the go-ahead, Nguyen opened DaLat at 2357 Fitzhugh in East Dallas. But Nguyen didn't want just any pho spot -- he wanted to serve late-night pho for those seeking better nourishment than a sourdough bacon burger at a greasy drive thru.
For the past month DaLat has kept the lights on and the stove hot for Dallasites until as late as 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Nguyen recently expanded his hours to include lunchtime.
How are the hours working out for you?
It's not too bad. I've learned that my career as an attorney prepared me well for long hours. It's certainly not something I want to continue for a long time, but I'm accustomed to the massive hours.
I just hired a GM and we're trying to find a balance with the hours we're keeping. Having her here allows me to concentrate on other basic things, like a new sign and new patio furniture.
On nice nights I hear the windows over the bar are open...
Yeah, both windows over the bar completely open up.
What's been the biggest adjustment so far?
The only hard part is that it's seven days a week. And when my wife pulls a nightshift in the ER at Medical City (she's a physicians assistant) and then the baby sitter has issues, it can be a challenge.
Have you gotten your fill of cooking yet?
I'm not doing that much cooking anymore. I created the recipes and have trained the staff, and I'm still chief accountability officer for everything. But, right now I'm mostly just doing the more complicated stuff, like the pho broth. It's very very hard to teach that. It's not just a recipe. I have to baby the pho broth all the time.