Lynn Nguyen had never worked in a restaurant before she bought one. In the past 15 years, she has learned, nurtured and thrived with Ying Cafe, one of the first Asian restaurants in Mansfield.
“It was like jumping in when you don’t know how to swim,” said Nguyen, 47. “The first year was very stressful.”
But Nguyen is a lot tougher than she looks.
In the 1980s, she and her family were “boat people” escaping from South Vietnam, where her father had served in the army. They settled in Arlington, where Nguyen attended Sam Houston High School. There she met her future husband, Peter, who she has been married to for 25 years. She got a degree in accounting, her husband went into IT and the couple had four daughters.
By 2002, Nguyen was ready for another challenge. Her husband’s friend found a restaurant for sale, Ying Cafe, which had just opened in November 2001.
“I wanted to go to work, and my husband said ‘You don’t want to work for somebody else,’” Nguyen said.
So they bought a restaurant in February 2002. And Nguyen learned fast.
“Every day you work with customers and try to make what they like,” she said.
Nguyen has kept the same recipes, what she calls American Chinese, but she has made some modifications to fit her taste.
“Some like sweet, some like salty,” Nguyen said.
The sesame chicken, sweet and sour chicken and fried rice have won a following, she said.
“Everybody comes back and tells me they like the taste,” Nguyen said. “We have loyal customers. A lot, when I take their order, they recognize me and I know what they want.”
Those loyal customers have helped Ying Cafe stay busy as more Asian restaurants move into Mansfield.
Anh Tran, who has worked with Nguyen at Ying Cafe for 13 years, says it’s the food, especially the sesame chicken, fried wonton and moo goo gai pan that keep the customers coming.
“I know what they eat,” Tran said. “I’ve watched their kids grow up. They go to college and come home to see me. They like the food. They say they like the service, too.”
Custom orders are OK, too, Nguyen says. If you want a spicy dish without the zing, just ask. If you want more meat or less broccoli, just ask.
“If you want something different, just ask,” Nguyen said. “If it’s not OK, if it’s not going to taste good, I won’t do it.”
Nguyen wants every dish that comes out of her kitchen to be right.
“Not just right, perfect,” she said. “It has to look right, not just something you throw on a plate. A lot of people call me, what is it, a perfectionist.”
So what is the secret to her success? Nguyen says it’s good food at reasonable prices -- like the $5.95 lunch specials -- and good service.
“I haven’t had a vacation in 15 years,” she said. “You just have to have time.”
2851 Matlock Road, Suite 408