Traditional Vietnamese flavor comes to Grafton

After escaping his war-torn country in 1975, Bamboo Bistro owner Luat Dang brings mother’s home cooking to Ozaukee

BAMBOO BISTRO OWNER Luat Dang escaped from Vietnam with his family in 1975 and has brought his culture’s cuisine to Grafton. The Vietnamese restaurant opened in February and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Aug. 21. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press staff

Restaurant owner Luat Dang is bringing a taste of his homeland to Grafton.

The Vietnamese restaurant Bamboo Bistro at 1955 Wisconsin Ave. held a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Grafton Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Aug. 21, even though it opened in February.

“There’s nothing here like our restaurant,” Dang said. “There are some Chinese restaurants around here, but there are no Vietnamese places.”

Since opening, Dang said, he has been serving people who have never experienced the cuisine as well as Vietnamese customers in search of the food they remember from their childhood.  

“There are a couple of nail salons in Grafton where a lot of Vietnamese women work and they always come here for lunch,” he said.

He added the restaurant receives a lot of traffic from Vietnamese residents living in Milwaukee.

“They always come for our No. 15, the HaNoi-style noodles,” he said. “They don’t have that in Milwaukee, so they come here to check it out.”

Dang said he learned to cook by watching his mother prepare meals for the family of 11 children.

His family fled from Vietnam on a shrimp boat in 1975 when North Vietnamese forces took control of the south. Dang said he remembers being shot at by the Viet Cong and rescued by a U.S. aircraft carrier as they escaped the country.

“We didn’t know where we were going. Our boat was sinking from the bullet holes,” he said. “It wasn’t until we were rescued that we knew we were coming to America.”

A church in Pine Bluff, Ark., sponsored his family, which moved to Texas in 1980. When Dang was a high school student, he began working at a McDonald’s, then became a chef at a Holiday Inn in Texas.

After starting his own family, Dang bought a pizza franchise, Mr. Jim’s Pizza.

“It’s pretty big in Texas, but there’s none around here,” he said.

He said operating a franchise was difficult at times because there isn’t much flexibility.

“You have to play by somebody else’s rules. You can’t do anything yourself. If you do, everything has to go through corporate,” Dang said.

Eight years ago, Dang opened his first restaurant, also called Bamboo Bistro, in Fort Worth, Texas. His sister-in-law now manages the restaurant because Dang and his family moved to Cedarburg several years ago to be closer to his wife’s family.

Prior to opening the Grafton restaurant, Dang worked in Appleton and Texas as an interior installer for Gulfstream Aerospace.

Three of Dang’s children work at the restaurant. His daughter Sarah’s artwork depicting Vietnam culture lines the walls of the establishment.

“This is their first job and it gives them something to do. It also gives us a reason to keep an eye on them all the time,” he said, noting his youngest son is 9 and will work for the family business when he is older.

In addition to Vietnamese food, the restaurant offers Chinese and Thai dishes.

“People always ask for orange chicken, which is Chinese, so we are able to accommodate them,” Dang said, noting most of the menu items are gluten free, which is typical of Vietnamese food.

Dang said he is considering expanding his menu and wants to include daily and weekend specials.

When recounting his journey from Vietnam to Grafton, Dang said it’s an example of the American dream.

“Growing up, I never imagined that I would one day become a business owner in America,” he said. “To work really hard and start your own business isn’t easy. It’s a dream come true.”

 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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