What I Do: Victor Pham of VP Square and Cafe Mochi
Family drives all of Victor Pham’s decisions – from his mother’s insistence he flee Vietnam with his siblings in 1981 to the restaurants he runs in St. Louis. Pham originally found success as a hairdresser and businessman on South Grand, then used that entrepreneurial acumen to open Cafe Mochi with his brother and sister, Duncan and Mina Pham. The trio recently opened VP Square, serving pan-Asian fare including Vietnamese favorites. Here, Pham shares his role in the family businesses and why immigrants make South Grand great.
“My family has eight [kids], but four of us left together from Vietnam, refugees by boat. … I was 13 – not that young, but young enough that you don’t know what’s going on. You just don’t know what danger is.”
“My mom set up that we would try to escape the country sometime, but we just [didn’t] know when. That afternoon after school, I went to a movie theater with friends, and then right after the movie my mom [had] already packed [us and] said, ‘Go, go, go.’”
“Most foreigners came from a poor country so they are … flexible and realistic. They’ve been through a hard time, so they are tough, I believe, and work hard. I have some of that from my background, my roots.”
“My mom is an amazing mother. Her time was harder than my time. … She has a lot of influence in my drive. She is a businesswoman. … My mom helped her parents [in their noodle business in Saigon], and therefore she has a business mind and things like that that I just picked up.”
“My brother [was] already fluent in Japanese cuisine and sushi, so I was asking him if he wanted to move to St. Louis to open a sushi shop, because [there was] no sushi or Japanese restaurant on South Grand. He was really interested, so he came and my sister, Mina, she … was a really good, experienced server, so we had really good potential to run a restaurant like that.”
“My role is paperwork, getting a loan financially. I’m a businessman. I’m good with numbers. I think it worked out perfectly, three categories: One works the front, one does the paperwork and one in the kitchen.”
“A day off is an extra day to do paperwork. ... My day off, I could be cleaning both restaurants and have appointments with hood cleaning maintenance at the restaurant, vacuum, scrubbing, painting where it needs it or planting to make the place look nice and clean. It never ends.”
“To be who I am today without going crazy, I know how to manage my time. Whenever I have a little extra time, I go to [Tower Grove Park], I call it [the] Fountain of Youth. Feeling the air, looking at the trees, hear birds chirping – it recharges me.”
“I love living on South Grand. I love working with my family because every day seeing them around me – that’s my joy. Nothing can buy that or replace it. My family is my everything. I create these restaurants to get closer together.”
Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.
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