Editor’s note: As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupts the restaurant industry, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has changed its dining coverage and suspended its restaurant reviews. Instead, we are publishing a new column called Atlanta Orders In, which looks at the challenges faced by Atlanta restaurants, and serves as a guide to ordering takeout.
When Dinh Tran and his wife, Khanh Dang, opened their Avondale Estates pho parlor in August, the future looked bright. To be honest, not every business the entrepreneurial Tran had started before then had been a smashing success. But, Vietvana Pho Noodle House felt different. Customers and critics were excited about the steamy bowls of noodles in beef broth, the dainty banh mis stuffed with fresh ingredients, the shaking beef with rice. Just the name itself, Vietvana, was a play on the Buddhist ideal of spiritual transcendence.
On Feb. 17, a second Vietvana arrived on Spring Street in Midtown, near the Georgia Tech campus. On March 19, as the coronavirus panic set in, the couple decided to suspend their Midtown operations and focus on takeout service in Avondale. A number of employees opted to stay home. Others were OK working fewer hours. Because of that, Tran hasn’t had to lay off any of his 60 to 70 team members.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia
Still, Tran, whose family emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. when he was 2, spends a lot of time worrying. Three or four times a day, he checks the harrowing COVID-19 statistics (the spiraling infection rate; the thousands of deaths) as if they were a doomsday clock.
“The reason why I do this is just to remind myself that I have staff members that are working right now that are in the front line,” said the 32-year-old chef and restaurateur. “If I can ensure their safety, I can ensure that, when the customers eat our food, it’s the safest possible food they can eat.”
I spoke to Tran for more than a hour by phone as he drove from his home in Lawrenceville to Avondale. We spent a good chunk of time discussing safety measures, his relationship with his landlords and the choices he’s made. “I think most, if not all, landlords understand the situation that’s going on right now,” he said. His have taken a wait-and-see approach: They aren’t demanding rent, but he knows that day will come.
He said there was little debate about closing the Midtown store. The kitchen was too small to ensure proper distancing, and about 20 of the store’s approximately 33 employees wished to stay home.
“The honest truth is nobody wants to work,” he said. “Nobody wants to risk their lives right now.” Tran said he also worries about his wife, a pharmacist. “I hear what she says. I see it in her eyes. She’s scared.”
The sobering reality is that he would like to close his Avondale restaurant, too. Yet, he knows his employees are desperate for cash.
“Everybody is hurting. Everyone who is working in a restaurant now, it’s because they have to. It’s because they need to. I know that. They know that. Everybody knows that. We would prefer to shut down and wait this out. But, there’s no perfect world. There’s no answer to everything.”
For now, the busy, blissful state of the old Vietvana is on mute.Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Do you have feedback about the new column? We want to hear from you. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
VIETVANA PHO NOODLE HOUSE
Menu: full menu of appetizers, salads, pho, bahn mis, bun plates, rice dishes, fried rice and so on.
Alcohol: all beer, wine, sake, shochu and cocktails available to go.
What I ordered: crispy egg rolls, special combination beef pho, crispy catfish banh mi, Vietvana banh mi. The order was neatly wrapped and packaged — the Vietvana sandwich in a separate bag, as requested, so that I could leave it on a friend's doorstep. By the time I got home, I felt I needed to reheat the pho broth before adding the noodles, meats and toppings from their separate containers.
Service options: pickup, or delivery via ChowNow and Postmates. The restaurant prefers payment online or over the phone. Customers who must use a credit card are allowed in one at a time.
Safety protocols: Employees wash their hands before and after every transaction. Surfaces are sanitized frequently. Cooks wear gloves and masks, and work independently at a safe distance from one another.
Address: 2831 E. College Ave., Avondale Estates
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Read the AJC Fall Dining Guide: The Noodle Edition
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