York County Medicine Winter 2019 - 32

YO R K C O M E D S O C . O R G

IN THE COMMUNITY:

CULTURAL CUISINE IN YORK COUNTY

THE VIET THAI CAFÉ
I

n 1975, at the age of 20, Yen Nguyen and her
husband, Francis, fled from Laos to a refugee
camp in Thailand. Though originally from
Vietnam, they had been living in an area of
Laos, surrounded by violence, and left so abruptly
that they could not risk even saying goodbye to
family. At the camp, the young couple slept on a
piece of wood; meals consisted of one big pot of
burnt rice that was shared by everyone in the camp.

A year later, a church group funded Yen,
her husband, and young daughter to come to
the United States. The group gave them housing for one month, and
provided training for Francis so he could find work (he was able to get a
job at Yorktowne Kitchens). The church also helped the family apply for
public assistance and food stamps. But when using the food stamps, Yen
was treated very poorly. It was humiliating, and was the only point during
this time that Yen remembers cryjng. "I only went one time," she said.
She told the church she and Francis would work and pay their way from
then on.
As a young man, Yen's son Chris went to culinary school and fell in
love with the art of cooking. But he dreamed of having his own restaurant
someday, and in 1996, Chris opened an American restaurant. The
restaurant, located at 917 E. Market Street, didn't do well, so in 1997,
Yen took over. At the time, the restaurant had a small dining area with
four tables, had no permanent menu, and Yen was the only cook. But she
started introducing the people of York to Vietnamese and Thai cuisine,
and soon had a few loyal customers, who helped spread the news of the
incredible tasting food. One customer, who worked for a local paper,
did an article on the restaurant titled "Thai Landed on Market Street."
The article worked. Business built quicker than Yen could hire staff, so
customers helped do dishes, check out at the register, and brought her
vegetables for cooking. She had minimal pots and pans, dishware and
silverware. "I will never forget the people who helped me, and love all my
customers for that," she says.
Viet Thai Café's medical connection came when Dr. Eaamon Boyle's
son, Brian, was going to Thailand to study abroad and asked Yen to
teach him how to cook Thai food. Impressed by the new restaurant,
and especially its food and chef, Dr. Boyle introduced Dr. Tiru to the
café, and Dr. Tiru began to take friends, family, and colleagues to the
restaurant. Yen admits she had trouble remembering the names of
so many new customers, especially the doctors. Instead, she created
nicknames such as Dr. Sleeping, Dr. Stomach, Dr. Handsome, Dr. Baby
#1, Dr. Baby #2 - by specialty!

32

York County Medicine | WINTER 2019


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York County Medicine Winter 2019

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