In mid-June, my Instagram feed was peppered with a flurry of posts from friends calling on people to support Lang Van. The beloved east-side restaurant, located along Shamrock Drive, has been serving the tastiest Vietnamese food you can imagine since 1990. The restaurant, which is currently open for takeout only, had been experiencing financial strain due to COVID-19.
May’s news of the Manor Theatre’s closing hit me hard. Not wanting to see another key Charlotte staple go under, I did what any loyal East Charlottean would do—ordered a ton of food.
I’m not a Lang Van regular, but I am a big Lang Van fan. Every time I’ve eaten there I’ve been blown away by the food, the service, and the general warmth and hospitality emanating from this cozy space.
Considering all the social media buzz, I decided to order lunch from Lang Van as a Father’s Day treat for my family. When I called, the phone was literally ringing off the hook. It took 12 times for it to finally ring through. They were slammed in the most encouraging way possible — a hopeful sign.
When I arrived to pick up the food, the line was out the door (thanks in part to social distancing). It was hot and late to be eating lunch — nearly 2 p.m. — but when I got inside the vibe was cheery. Folks were spread out all around the restaurant waiting for their orders, many with green Buddha-shaped bottles of Lucky beer in hand.
A woman in her early twenties sitting at a table near the door called over one of the staff members. “It’s my mom,” she said, holding up her phone. “She wants to say hi!” The employee hurried over, excitedly greeting the mom who had Facetimed in to send her love.
The line moved steadily. The owner, Ms. Dan Nguyen, bustled around doing several jobs at once — working the register, answering the phone, greeting guests, bagging orders with lightning speed, profusely apologizing for the wait to whoever was next in line.
When the woman ahead of me went to pay, Nguyen recognized her, mask and all. “How is your family?” she asked with genuine care. They briefly caught up and after signing her receipt, the woman pressed a bill into Nguyen’s hand.
“For you,” the customer said.
“Oh no,” Nguyen protested. “This is too much.”
“It is not enough,” the woman responded earnestly as she slipped off to a side chair to wait for her take-out food food.
As I was collecting my bags of food (which smelled heavenly), Nguyen welcomed the gentleman behind me by name. They both seemed excited to see one another.
“Jessica just called,” he said.
“Yes, I just spoke with Jessica!” Nguyen replied. “But it will be a wait. So sorry.”
“No problem. I’m not in a hurry.” He slid into an empty teal booth. Seconds later, Nguyen placed a beer on his table, gently pushing the laughing emerald glass Buddha towards him.
“For you,” I heard her say as I walked out, my arms full of food and my heart full of an unanticipated sense of hope. Hope for Lang Van’s survival, and — dare I say it? — hope for humanity itself.