Nguyen’s reopens due to overwhelming popular demand

nguyensStory by Christine Haines

After a brief hiatus, Nguyen’s Seafood and Sushi is open again in its original location in Uniontown.

Owner Kevin Nguyen says it is his customers who convinced him to keep the business going when his brothers, who were his original business partners, decided to close.

“My brothers, they decided to take a break, and it’s hard for me to run it by myself. Seeing how much our fans on facebook missed us really touched my heart,” Nguyen said.

The restaurant noted for its made-to-order sushi and traditional Vietnamese recipes, had been open for seven years when it closed at the end of January. By mid-April Nguyen was ready to reopen at 160 Pittsburgh St.

“It was almost three months and I just spent some time enjoying the kids,” Nguyen said.

There was a time, Nguyen said, that his youngest son, who is a toddler, barely knew who he was because he was home so little. Having that time at home was important, but so was returning to the restaurant.

“I asked my brother Song and he agreed to come back and run the kitchen,” Nguyen said. “We are very lucky to have a very dedicated staff. When we closed, we all cried. It’s like part of my family too.”

The restaurant is now owned by the twin brothers, Kevin and Song Nguyen and Kevin’s wife, Katie.

“She’s been a big support for me from day one,” Nguyen said.

He jokes that their wedding vows were ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, with restaurant  or without.’ For the foreseeable future, it will be ‘with restaurant.’

Nguyen said he knew that if the restaurant were to come back, there would have to be changes.

“We wanted to do more traditions. Before we did fusions a lot. That takes more time, with steaming and broiling.”

Nguyen said the4 focus is now more Pan-Asian.

“A lot of people come in and ask for more Vietnamese foods. We have a traditional Vietnamese papaya salad and grilled salmon, what a family would sit down to eat for dinner,” Nguyen said. “We also have lettuce wraps, pho, and savory rice dishes.”

Customers will find many of their old favorites, but may need to read the menu a little more closely — they are now going by their Vietnamese names. Look for Ca Ri Tom if the curry shrimp was one of your favorites. The sauce is the traditional Vietnamese red curry with coconut milk, similar to Thai curry.

“It’s more savory, with a lot more fresh herbs,” Nguyen said.

While many of the former staff members have returned, Nguyen said he is still looking for more employees, particularly those who may be interested in training as sushi chefs.

“It takes a lot of time and patience. It’s a reward that you want to teach them a trade and they can use that anywhere,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said he currently has four sushi chefs working Fridays and Saturdays to keep up with business.

“In a small town, it’s hard to find sushi chefs. We train them from scratch,” Nguyen said. “In Pittsburgh it’s hard to hire a sushi chef. Here, they have to have a passion and drive. If they do, I’m willing to teach.”

One of the people he has trained is Rachel Lough, of Hopwood who can be found behind the sushi bar on a regular basis.

“I never cooked before I came here. I was serving and I was watching Kevin and I told him how fascinating it was. Kevin asked me if I wanted to be a sushi chef and I said yes. He started me in the kitchen.It took me three months to learn the kitchen.”

Lough has been making sushi for nearly two years now.

As a family business Nguyen sets his own standards, and they are high, resulting in a quality product, but that also means there is little time for vacations or even a few days off because of illness.

“First we have to take good care of ourselves. We can’t afford to be closed two days, our employees depend on us,” Nguyen said. “We always wanted someone to be an on-site manager, but most people don’t want that kind of responsibility.”

Nguyen said he’s been asked to teach sushi classes in the area, but he is too busy with the restaurant to take time out to teach. The restaurant is closed Sundays, but is otherwise open daily for lunch 11:30-2:30, with with an afternoon break before reopening for dinner at 4 p.m. Nguyen’s closes at 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, but stays open until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.  Saturdays the restaurant is open from noon until 10 p.m.

“We tried to cut back a little bit to spend time with the kids. We’re lucky to have wonderful clients,” Nguyen said.

Photo: Kevin Nguyen uses torches to melt the cheese on top of a Fusion Roll