The word "persistence" comes to mind as Alysia Davey describes the three-year journey that she and her fiance, Ryan Anderson, have taken in opening Zomo, their new Vietnamese-American restaurant at 3457 South Broadway in downtown Englewood. "Ryan and I can truly call this restaurant ours, but we couldn't have done it without all of our family," Davey says.
In spring 2016, the couple took over the vacant restaurant space that had been El Tepehuan (which relocated a block south) for forty years. As first-time restaurateurs, they tackled every aspect of the renovation themselves. Anderson is a mechanical engineer, so he, along with his father (also an engineer) oversaw the design plans, and also learned how to weld stainless steel, among other skills required to save money during the long process. Davey became adept at design software and created everything from the wicker light fixtures above each table to the faux-bamboo decorations made from copper pipe left over from the bathroom installation. She even created the working abacus patio dividers on the plaza outside the restaurant.
And last year, Davey's grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, throwing the whole project into doubt. She says that when he passed away in December, she didn't know whether it felt right to continue. But she decided that opening Zomo would honor his memory, and also give a place for her Vietnamese grandmother's cooking to shine. The whole family is there to help, with Davey's mom in the front of the house, and siblings and cousins pitching in as hosts, servers and bartenders.
Much of Zomo's menu comes from Davey's grandmother, Chi Nguyen (everyone just calls her Ma), who once had her own restaurant in Kansas and was previously the chef at Pho Golden in Golden. Everything is made from scratch, from the pho broth simmered for hours in an eighty-gallon steam kettle to the pâté on the banh mi bites (traditional banh mi served open-faced like bruschetta). Davey has been working on a recipe for making her own baguettes, but for now she's sourcing bread from other Vietnamese bakeries.
"I want to serve Vietnamese food like it's cooked at home, not in restaurants," she explains. So there's no MSG, and all the sauces are made in-house. Among the signature items are the Kansas State Fair egg rolls, so named because they were the first food Nguyen sold to make a living when she arrived in the U.S. some 45 years ago. Davey explains that, all those years ago, her grandmother made 3,000 egg rolls and sold them at the state fair, giving her the experience and confidence to become a professional cook.
The menu is small right now, and dishes are labeled in English and Vietnamese. Traditional items include spring rolls, green papaya salad, bun (noodle) bowls, and Ba's shrimp skewers, based on her grandfather's recipe. But there's also a house burger that can be ordered "classic" or "Viet-style," along with a side of hand-cut taro fries. A menu expansion is in the works, which could include the Vietnamese-American meatloaf (made with glass noodles in the mix) Davey grew up eating, and banh xeo "tacos," which will be traditional Vietnamese crepes made in handheld size. Midwestern touches include Jell-O cake and apple-pie egg rolls for dessert.
Zomo was in soft-opening mode last week, but will be fully up and running this week, with lunch and dinner hours starting at 11 a.m. daily. Call 720-739-8882 for more details.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.