Two sisters celebrate their Vietnamese heritage and mother’s legacy with a grand opening on Aug. 9 for the family’s second restaurant in Columbus.
Co-owners Cindy Nguyen and Elaine Pham named their new restaurant Big Mama Vietnam Kitchen in honor of their mother, Dieu Nguyen. Located on Sidney Simons Boulevard, the restaurant is larger than the family’s other establishment, Uptown Vietnam Cuisine.
The family previously owned a restaurant in The Landings shopping center from 2011 to 2015, Nguyen said, and built a loyal group of customers in this area of Columbus. The family wanted to bring their Vietnamese cuisine closer to their “regulars”, which was why they returned to The Landings when choosing a location for Big Mama Vietnam Kitchen.
“I missed my customers here,” she said. “I missed all my neighbors and everything around here.”
Nguyen and her sister also opened the second location to further their ability to share traditional Vietnamese cuisine with Columbus residents who may not be familiar with it. Nguyen enjoys helping patrons to try a variety of dishes that are new to them and are also healthy.
The food is completely fresh, she said, with “nothing pre-made or pre-mixed.” They also don’t fry very much of the food, Nguyen added, which helps keep their menu healthy. Vietnamese cuisine can also help ease certain ailments, she said.
“It helped me with sinuses, cold and flu,” Nguyen said.
Big Mama’s legacy
Nguyen and Pham’s mother, who they affectionately call Big Mama, loved cooking when she lived in Vietnam and brought the passion with her to the United States when she immigrated here around 40 years ago.
“Even now, we tell (Big Mama) to stay home and retire,” Nguyen said. “But she still does the cooking.”
Before coming to Columbus, Big Mama lived in Houston for 17 years operating restaurants.
Seeing people enjoy the Vietnamese cuisine that she’s prepared has given Big Mama satisfaction over the last four decades, Nguyen said.
“She served Americans before during the military war back in Vietnam,” she said. “So, she knows that it does bring a difference to them because of how military people travel a lot and they try different cuisines.”
Big Mama is happy when she sees a customer eat and complete a whole meal, Nguyen said, and likes to focus on the presentation as well as the taste of the food when she serves people. Her goal is that every dish is appetizing to people by the way it smells, tastes and looks.
Everyone always knows when Big Mama has cooked a meal, Nguyen said. They’ve even had regular customers asking “Is mama cooking today?”
Passing down the family business
Pham and Nguyen learned their business acumen and cooking skill from Big Mama over the years. While Pham is in control of preparing the restaurant’s food, Nguyen helps run the floor and interact with their customers.
“(Pham’s) the quiet one,” Nguyen said. “And I’m the one to talk a lot.”
Owning and operating restaurants is part of their family tradition, Nguyen said, and the Vietnamese people are family-oriented.
“We like to do things together,” she said. “Sitting together, eating together and sharing our meal.”
Pham and Nguyen want to keep this tradition going with Big Mama Vietnam Kitchen, she said. And they’re already helping the next generation learn the business as well through their nephew, her older brother’s son, Thomas Nguyen.
Thomas expressed interest in learning more about the restaurants and carrying on the family’s traditions, Nguyen said. He works at the new establishment in addition to coaching football at St. Anne-Pacelli and Columbus State University and studying physical therapy.
Four the past four years, he’s worked at Uptown Vietnam Cuisine while he’s been attending Columbus State University. He’s been learning the ins and outs of the restaurant business by serving, working in the kitchen and managing.
Since he can’t go to Vietnam and learn cooking and business skills there, he’s happy to have family to learn from here in Columbus, Thomas said.
“It’s like a tradition to try to be able to keep it in the family,” he said. “Because once my grandma’s gone, God forbid, you want to be able to pass it down from generation to generation and keep that passion.”
The ribbon cutting ceremony for Big Mama Kitchen will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at 5300 SIdney Simons Blvd. Unit #14.