In celebration of our NY Forever x WE ARE CHIMMI collaboration and AAPI Heritage month, our third highlight of NYC Chinatown businesses includes Pasteur Grill & Noodles. We chatted with the owners of Pasteur, Tony Chung and his father Dennis Chung. They talked about their family's journey to the US as refugees and the inspiration for starting Pasteur.
When did you open Pasteur and what was the inspiration behind it?
TONY: My dad always wanted to open a restaurant because food has always been a huge part of our family. And he wanted to bring some of the food that he remembered from his childhood here to New York.
DENNIS: When I was growing up in Vietnam, I ate Vietnamese food — com suon bi cha, bún riêu, bún bò huế, and chè — every morning on the street before going to school. These memories inspired me to share the food I ate growing up with people who didn’t know a lot about Vietnamese food. In the 90s, there were very few Vietnamese restaurants in NYC. I thought this would be a good opportunity to teach New Yorkers more about Vietnamese food. I like Vietnamese food because it is well-balanced — it’s sweet, savory, fresh, not oily, not too spicy, and mostly served with fresh vegetables. I knew that it had the potential to become really popular. So I opened the restaurant in 1995.
What is your family's story in arriving to the US?
TONY: My grandparents are ethnically Chinese. They moved to Vietnam and there was a lot of discrimination against the ethnic minority Chinese in Vietnam. They were forced to move to the countryside, do manual labor, and all their property was seized.
So in order to have a better life, they had to escape. They escaped after Saigon fell from the Vietnam War. They rode a small, wooden boat with 200 people, and they lived in Indonesian refugee camps and slept in one bed in a shack, infested with rodents. It was a horrible place to be. Luckily they were sponsored by a family member here in America, so my dad immigrated here in the ‘80s.
Why is it important for you to continue the business?
TONY: The restaurant business is so core to immigrant communities because when you have had such hard experiences, the two most core things you have are food and family.
The recipes my mom cooks at the restaurant were passed down by her mom and passed down from her mother. The quality of our food and our service are instrumental to our success. We treat all of our customers like family.
Now our restaurant is currently the oldest Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown.
TONY: When I was a kid, I didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was an immigrant because I grew up in a neighborhood that was primarily immigrants.
But now I’m very grateful for the sacrifices my parents have made on this journey to bring me to where I am today. As I got older, I realized that where I am today is all because of my parents' hard work. And this allows me to focus on things that are important to me: giving back to my community and finding ways to empower others.