Chefs

Hy Vong Closing Tonight, Looking for New Location

Fans of Hy Vong on Calle Ocho in Little Havana have been riding a roller coaster this week. First came news that the restaurant would be closing after dinner service tonight, October 30. Then, word came that the restaurant had a reprieve, with the landlord and owners reaching an agreement that would buy Hy Vong another year.

That wasn't to be, however.

Co-owner Kathy Manning says that it's been a trying day for her and her staff, but she's confident things happen for a reason. "This is not the end, but a change. But change, when you've been somewhere for 36 years, can be difficult. I have a lot of people that I love here."

Manning says she tried to work a last-minute deal with the restaurant's landlord, but things just didn't work out. "First the landlord said I had to go, so I told my customers. Then he called and said he would give me a lease and I wanted to inform my customers. Finally, the deal was something that was impossible for me to accept. This time, it's for sure. The decision is no longer his."

Once finalized, the Hy Vong co-owner seems at peace. "We are really going. Tomorrow we are moving the equipment out and we are going to reopen [somewhere else] if it works.

"I don't want to retire, I like what I do and I'm not ready to quit. I don't want to sit down. I'm a really good waitress, that's what I'm really good at."

Manning, who is already looking for another location, is hoping the new restaurant gives chef/owner Tung Nguyen the opportunity to grow as a chef. "Hopefully, where we go, we'll have the opportunity and time to be more creative. I would like for her to have that, rather than just grind away. Tung is amazing. She can go to the market and tell you what's good and what's bad."

Manning recalls how she and her partner met back in 1975 when Manning sponsored 17 Vietnamese refugees through the St. James Lutheran Church in Coral Gables. "Tung was one of many people that were in my house, but she was different than everyone else. She was very pregnant and she would cook for everyone, traditional Vietnamese dishes. She never sat down at the table.

"When that little girl was born, I was the first to see her and that was very important to me. I remember when we were opening the restaurant, that was a difficult day for me, too. But that little girl took my hand and I knew it was going to be OK. Now that little girl is a grown woman and she took my hand again and I know, whatever happens, it's going to be OK."

Hy Vong closes tonight after dinner service.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss