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My Soapbox: David Le, Pho Lang Thang group





David Le, 33, and his business partners, Duy and Bao Nguyen, are the proud owners of two Cincinnati restaurants: Pho Lang Thang in Findlay Market and Quan Hapa. Pho Lang Thang serves up traditional Vietnamese dishes like pho and bahn mi sandwiches. It was recently voted #1 by readers in the Vietnamese category of CityBeat’s Best of Cincinnati.

The trio recently opened Quan Hapa, an Asian gastropub, in Over-the-Rhine. The dishes there are a bit more eclectic (squid ink soba noodles, anyone?), but are still considered traditional Vietnamese fare.

They recently won an OTR Chamber Star Award for Business of the Year. They were recognized for being successful and diverse minority business owners in Cincinnati. Soapbox sat down with Le and asked him a few questions about his businesses and his group's success.
 
What does the Star Award mean for your businesses?
We started Pho Lang Thang three and a half years ago, and we’ve finally gotten recognition. We live in OTR, and all along, we wanted to become major players in Cincinnati’s restaurant world.

Being recognized by the OTR Chamber and the board lets us know that our hard work isn’t going unnoticed. And people keep coming back, so that’s good. We also want to share with our colleagues that there are Asian American people in the city, and they’re doing neat things that don’t revolve around engineering or pharmacy.
 
What got you interested in food?
None of us are trained chefs—we just like food. When we started Pho Lang Thang, we wanted to make a place for us to hang out and eat, and it snowballed from there. We traveled around, and saw that the only place to get Vietnamese food was back home at our parents’ house. We wanted to open a shop in Findlay Market, and we figured if no one came, then we would split the rent and just hang out.
 
Where did the name ‘Quan Hapa’ come from?
‘Quan’ is the Vietnamese word for bar or bistro, and ‘hapa’ is an Asian American term that means part-Asian. For our friends, our kids will all become some kind of hapa. All of America is that way, actually—we’re all a mixture of some kind. It’s a slang term that used to be considered derogatory, but now, it’s just a normal term that’s used in everyday conversation.
 
What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
Being able to see immediate reactions and immediate results from any action that you do. You don’t have to wait a long time—you can make a decision within your small group and see the results. Also coming up with an idea and seeing it through to the end, something you helped create, is very rewarding.
 
To what do you credit your success?
We’re not trying to do something that we’re not equipped to do. We don’t want to say that we’re trying to be Momofuko. We just do what we like to eat—things our family eats or things we ate while backpacking in Vietnam or visiting Japan.

We try to do dishes that are familiar to us, so we’re not creating crazy dishes. One of our overarching missions is to serve food, but to share our culture through food. We want to contribute to the city and make it as Asian American friendly as possible. We want to be a connection and introduce Asian American customs through food.
 
What resources have you utilized in Cincinnati?
For Pho Lang Thang, we used the Business First Grant from the OTR Chamber. We also had help from lots of people that have been around the city for a long time—Bob Pickford, the former CEO of Findlay Market; Joe Brashear of Brashear Bolton Architects. They’ve been around since the mid-1970s. For Quan Hapa, we had help from 3CDC and one of its funds, and the Model Group helped us get the restaurant going. We’re members of the Cincinnati Chamber and the OTR Chamber, and we’ve used their resources and attended their seminars and classes.
 
What do you hope to bring to the Cincinnati area in the future?
We hope to contribute to the city’s diversity. We want to help make it more Asian American friendly and help bridge the gap between American culture and Asian American culture. We want to help share Asian American culture in all the things that we do.

We all went to the University of Cincinnati, and we had some friends move away after college for different opportunities. Many went to New York City or Los Angeles. We want to make sure Cincinnati is a fun place for everyone to stay.
 
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