Duc Nguyen — who spent 13 years as a researcher at the Yale School of Medicine — will see his dream to open a Vietnamese restaurant become a reality Monday, with the opening of Duc’s Place on 167 Orange St.
Nguyen conceived of Duc’s Place last year after he quit the Yale School of Medicine’s research team to pursue his restaurateur dreams. Nguyen signed a lease for the Orange Street space in October, hoping to open the following month, but renovations delayed the launch until the spring. Once open, the restaurant specializing in the Vietnamese specialties of banh mi and pho will serve street-food-style banh mi for roughly $9 per sandwich.
“I wanted to take a break from science,” Nguyen said. “I was going cold feet and jumping in, and got some savings and started looking for a place.”
Nguyen, who takes photographs for on-campus dance groups such as Rhythmic Blue, wanted to pursue a second career in either photography or food, his two great passions. He ultimately settled on food because opening a restaurant had been his longtime dream.
Nguyen said he also wanted to open the restaurant because there are not many Vietnamese food establishments in the city. Other Vietnamese offerings in New Haven include Chef Brody’s Banh Mi food truck and Pho and Spice, located on 76 Orange St.
“Every day I wanted to have a craving for banh mi, I had to go to New York City, Hartford or Boston,” Nguyen said. “I think this offers very unique Vietnamese food. Also, the concept of banh mi street food compares to offerings like [those of] Subway or other sandwich places.”
Chi Tong ’18, who hails from Hanoi, the capitol of Vietnam, shared Nguyen’s laments about the shortage of quality Vietnamese food in New Haven. Pho and Spice, the only restaurant option in the city for Vietnamese food, is decent, Tong said. She added that she hopes to visit Nguyen’s new restaurant when it opens.
Nguyen, who is entering the business without a partner, drew funding from his own savings and contributions from his family. He said his family, which includes four brothers in academia, were initially shocked but then supportive of his decision to trade his white coat for an apron.
Once the store is open, Nguyen plans to publicize it through word of mouth and social media. The marketing campaign has already begun. After leasing the location this fall, Nguyen has posted updates on the business on his Facebook page, which had received 174 likes by Wednesday afternoon.
Monica Amore, an IT employee at Quinnipiac University and an acquaintance of Nguyen, said she learned about Nguyen’s venture through this page. Nguyen’s business, Amore said, will be successful because of Nguyen’s kindness, excellent cooking skills and the busy pedestrian location on Orange Street.
“I was surprised, but thrilled for him,” Amore said. “He is incredibly kind and generous, and will care about his customers and make sure they’re satisfied.”
The French introduced banh mi, which means bread in Vietnamese, to the country during colonization.