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Tai Nguyen retires from Saigon on Grace Street

Tastemakers

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Tai Nguyen has decided to call it quits at 57. Thirteen years after opening on Grace Street, Nguyen seems to think a little rest and relaxation (at least from the food business) is in order. Good for him, but sad for the VCU students and teachers, and other residents who have grown attached to the amiable man and his enduring Vietnamese restaurant.

Nguyen's life as a restaurateur has been steady and quiet compared to his tumultuous youth. He escaped from North Vietnam when he was a child in 1955, joined the South Vietnamese navy in 1964, sat in prison for five years after the end of the war, and subsequently escaped Vietnam altogether by boat in 1980.

After bringing his family to the United States, Nguyen studied for a degree in electric engineering, which he never used, moving to Richmond and opening Saigon instead.

Why? He had a family to support. "My friend told me to go open a business," Nguyen remembers. "So I did, because I had to take care of my kids."

Nguyen has four daughters. He opened Saigon in 1988. Since then, he has kept up the management end of the business, letting his wife Kimtu run the kitchen.

Nguyen's sister Siep Phung, who owns a successful Vietnamese restaurant on the West Coast, is travelling cross-country to take over. Nguyen says she will probably start at the end of March, and that he will stay on for a couple of weeks to ease the transition. He has no worries though about how things will be handled once he's gone. "She knows everything me and my wife know," Nguyen says. "She will probably keep everything the same." 903 W. Grace St.

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