"A car literally drove through the kitchen while we were working in there, and we had several people in the dining room, too" recounts manager Linda Tran, who's been with T-WA since 1995. No one was injured, but T-WA, which lays claim to Denver's first Vietnamese restaurant, was forced to close for what the staff had hoped to be a mere three days. The structural damage, according to the contractor who rebuilt the kitchen, was so severe, however, that three days turned into more than three months.
And that could have been the end of T-WA, which originally opened in 1984, and has had a succession of bad luck along the way, including an owner named Vinny Tian, a former partner in King's Land, who bought the joint in 2001 from Tuan Lam, T-WA's original owner, and then nearly ran the restaurant into the ground when he left unpaid bills in his wake. "He just took off," recalls Tran.
Lam re-bought the restaurant in 2002, and since then, says Tran, they've struggled, despite the fact that Denverites gravitate toward Vietnamese restaurants, of which there are several on Federal Boulevard. "Business has been tough," laments Tran, but in the three months that T-WA was shuttered, the staff took advantage of the downtime to completely remodel the kitchen, the bathrooms and the dining rooms. "We'd wanted to remodel for a while, and this gave us the opportunity to do so," she says, adding that the floor, now tile, is brand new, as are the booths. There's new paint, as well, both on the walls and ceiling, and even the menu has undergone a transformation.
"We took off some of the dishes that were hard labor stuff, like the stuffed tofu," but, she notes, "we also added several different phos to the menu -- beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian -- mainly because pho is really hot right now; people love it." And, she says, while some of the original dishes on the menu are gone, she periodically offers them as specials, including the stuffed tofu, which, while a favorite of diners, is labor-intensive.
"It's a tough economy right now," admits Tran, "but the restaurant looks great, and my goal is to keep it busy, keep all of our guests happy and make sure that we're putting out food that makes them want to come back through the door."
And keep the wayward cars on Federal on the streets -- and not in the kitchen.