Food News

My First Restaurant Job: From a Noodle Shop in Vietnam to Ace Eat Serve

Thach Tran got his first restaurant gig from his grandmother.
Thach Tran got his first restaurant gig from his grandmother. Courtesy of Thach Tran
When Thach Tran took over the kitchen at Uptown's Ace Eat Serve in August 2017, the Asian restaurant outfitted with ping-pong tables really stepped up its food game with additions such as the Peking duck experience, available Sunday and Thursdays. Today Tran is the corporate chef for Secret Sauce restaurant group, overseeing the culinary programs at both Ace and the original Steuben's next door (the company closed the Steuben's Arvada location on August 22). He also made a recent appearance on the television show Food Paradise.

Before joining Secret Sauce, Tran worked at Sullivan Restaurant Group’s Ocean in Cherry Creek (which closed in 2008), Jet Entertainment's XO Noodle Bar in LoDo (which shuttered in 2009) and the acclaimed Sushi Den. He also served as executive sous chef at ChoLon.

But long before he was cooking in Denver, Tran got his first restaurant gig from his grandmother — when he was seven years old. Here's what he has to say about the experience:
click to enlarge
Tran has been heading up the kitchen at Ace Eat Serve since 2017.
Ace Eat Serve
Job Title: Dishwasher and farmers' market shopper

Where: Saigon, Vietnam

When: 1997 to 1999

About the Place: My grandmother was the first person to teach me about food and cooking. She owned two noodle restaurants in Vietnam. Her Banh Cuon (rice crepe) stall was in the local market in the District 5 community. The food stalls are mini restaurants that don't really have names, so people would refer to her food stall by her nickname "Big Aunty." To find her stall, people would ask where "Big Aunty Banh Cuon stall" is. She also ran another small food stall that served Hu Tieu, which is rice noodle that focuses on all things pork.

How I Got the Job: I didn't so much "get the job" officially at all. I just started helping my grandmother by washing dishes or running any errands that she needed completed. My elementary school was a ten-minute walk to the market, so I would love to go see her after school — hungry. She would feed me the most amazing food and give me some money to buy treats in the market while I picked up ingredients she needed for the noodle shop.

What I Did: I did whatever my seven-year-old self could do to help at the restaurant. Sometimes that meant running over to the markets, which was my favorite task, because I got to learn about so many ingredients and different types of produce and meet the people that grew it. The bonus snacks and treats that I got from the market vendors were the rewards for being a good little helper.

What I Learned: Working in my grandmother's food stalls is how I fell in love with food and learned to value its relationship with the community. I learned about taking pride in the process and taking a soulful approach to each dish. When I was nine, we moved to America, and I found myself feeling disconnected at first because I was experiencing fast, convenience foods. I found a love connection with food through working in a restaurant again at the age of fourteen, as a host and server in my first American restaurant job at the now-closed Boudreaux Bayou Cafe in Aurora. Southern American food was the cuisine that sparked my passion to pursue the culinary world professionally.

Do you have a great first restaurant job story to share? Email us at [email protected].
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin