The quaint, faded green restaurant glows with an open sign on, and clear-glass doors with mask mandated posters off. Chairs patiently sit waiting for customers to fill them as tables stand strong to allow space for families and individuals alike to eat good food with good company. As I walk into the space I get a familiar feeling, then I am met with a warm greeting from the owner, Dan Nguyen.
Nguyen is short in stature. Light and thin, with radiant skin and a glowing smile. Her hair sits back into a low ponytail with loose pieces of hair framing her face. She graciously offers me a Vietnamese coffee with a soft grin.
I accept as I sink into the green-cushioned booth. The hour is dead; the quietness emphasizes the bamboo curtains and glass bottles that line the booths of Lang Van, the Vietnamese restaurant that Nguyen has owned and operated since 2009.
Employees approach the table with water and appetizers without hesitation. Hospitality at Lang Van is absolutely no joke. In fact, it’s legendary.
Over 30 small-businesses in Charlotte closed during COVID. Lang Van was looking at a similar fate in the summer of 2020, when Queen City Nerve wrote about community efforts to fundraise for the east Charlotte staple. The business felt the economic distress that small restaurants across the country faced after being forced to close their dine-in areas due to COVID restrictions.
Known for their hospitable staff, delectable dishes, and an owner with incredible memory, Lang Van is one of Charlotte’s gems. In efforts to save the beloved restaurant, Lang Van’s customers and neighbors raised more than $63,000-$33,000 over the desired goal.
To this day, customers still donate on top of what they pay for their meal while dining in or grabbing takeout to support the family-owned business. These are gestures that Nguyen will never forget and aims to pay back in some way.
“Yeah, they helped me a lot. And right now, my heart, I remember every night, every night,” Nguyen says as she pats her hand to her chest. “Sometimes on holidays, I help people with presents.”
Another fundraiser, organized by local foodie Remy Thurston to raise funds for a Lang Van employee who was diagnosed with blood cancer early in 2022 raised more than $33,000 by selling T-shirts that sport the exterior of the restaurant in Lang Van’s iconic green.
The description for the fundraiser describes the cozy spot to be “part of your extended family here in Charlotte.” All the proceeds went directly to the affected employee. The shirt is still for sale online today.
Nguyen said the employee is still out of work while wrapping up her chemotherapy treatments, but she hopes to be back in the restaurant soon.
Orlean, an employee that’s worked for Dan for eight years, describes Dan as “a beautiful person.”
“She’s like my mother, you know?” Orlean added. “I don’t have a mother here. [I came] here in 2008, so I didn’t have an opportunity, you know, working.”
“I knocked on doors, you know, ‘Hey, I need work.’ … One day, [Nguyen] called and said, ‘Hey. Do you want a place for working?’” Orlean recalls. She remembers taking three buses to get to Lang Van at the time. Their relationship blossomed from there.
Nguyen, who arrived in America to join her husband in 1999 and struggled to get by, even living out of her car for a short period, does what she can to help others like Orlean who find themselves in a similar situation.
Her strengths are in allowing her emotions to show, remembering many of her customers by name and acting with a selfless demeanor. Nguyen’s pure character is cemented by the testimonies of her from employees.
“A lot of people love my employees. They love me. They love everybody,” Dan gleans. “And I don’t care for myself. I never think for myself. My babies are happy, my employees are happy, and customers are happy,” she says with teary eyes.
Despite the struggles that the pandemic brought on, the future of Lang Van looks to be stable for now. Nguyen’s unwavering dedication to help and care for others keeps her employees standing right by her side, and customers steadily streaming through Lang Van’s doors.
SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.
This work by Queen City Nerve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.