As we stand at the cusp of a Lunar New Year, I invite you to join me in a reflective pause, looking back at the magic we’ve created together in 2023.
We always dreamed that it would be our final project to open a fine-dining Vietnamese restaurant. However, the market’s post-pandemic effects provided a crazy opportunity for us to get a great space at a great price. So my dream of NUE began…
However, AFTER we were locked into the contract for the Founder’s Row space, our company stopped doing well financially. Our expensive rebrand of our Chasin’ Tails Centreville location was met with angry customers, pages of 1-star reviews and empty seats. We had overextended ourselves financially and were desperate for Founders Row to quickly succeed to save the company we built over the past decade. The dire financial situation added loads of stress to every meeting with our partners who are also my closest friends and family. Sparing you the details of tough conversations and lots of tears, the question was whether we should play it safe or go all in on my vision? It became clear that our team and I had arrived at a crossroads…
Eventually, I was officially announced in front of our whole company of 200 people that I was taking over as CEO of our company that my 7 partners and I had built together for the past 10 years. Many of my teammates left due to the stressful situation and I was caught up in a wave of emotions: sad, nervous and excited at the same time. However, I immediately grounded myself back to the reality that our lease gave us only a few more months to open before we were punished by huge losses that we couldn’t afford.
Once again, I did everything that I could to leave an amazing first impression to guests. I stayed up all night for three nights straight to cut and arrange bouquets of flowers into hand made boxes to gift to every mom that celebrated Mother’s Day at NUE and Chasin’ Tails. Our restaurant’s cooler and my apartment fridge was filled to the brim with flowers and seafood so I left my work in my apartment’s common area refrigerator. However, after the third night, a thief stole my hard work… I was absolutely devastated. I remembered thinking to just give up on the flowers for mother’s day… However, my teammates and I pulled together to ensure that every single mom that celebrated Mother’s Day at Founders Row received a bouquet arrangement. Upon reflection, Mother’s Day weekend was one of the most memorable moments where I felt genuine fulfillment for what we accomplished and gratitude for our entire team for fighting with me until the very end.
Eventually, everyone’s hard work began to pay off…
Famed critic Tom Sietsama’s amazing review in The Washington Post highlighted the profound impact of NUE’s culinary narrative. I told him my experience growing up as a Vietnamese-American and my struggles to feel true belonging. I never felt American enough for my peers at school but also not Vietnamese enough for my family at home. My passion for art and hospitality was viewed with skepticism by my parents who told me to avoid the “blue-collar jobs.” Now as CEO of a restaurant that celebrates art, I feel that I’m finally free to explore, embrace and celebrate my Vietnamese side while realizing the American dream.
Second, is the feeling of nervous excitement for the next year. While our company’s financial situation is much better than it was last year, we have a lot more work to do to climb out of debt. 2024 is the Year of the Dragon which happens to be my zodiac sign (I’m a 1988 dragon!). Based on astrology and my parents, 2024 should be a very difficult year for me. However, as you know I love to prove my parents wrong so the work has already begun!
We’re busy from now to the end of January with Restaurant Week and then preparing for a crazy Lunar New Year celebration in February . Chef Daniel and I have been researching a dragon-inspired crispy whole fish. We’re also crafting 5 alluring dragon-themed cocktails each representing one of the five elements. We plan to unveil them at our Grand Lunar New Year Celebration event in February.
Stay tuned for more details as the best is yet to come!
With heartfelt gratitude and anticipation,
Tuyet Nhi Le
Visionary of NUE and CEO of Happy Endings Hospitality Group