Columbus, Ohio USA
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Lac Viet Market: From Saigon to the Short North
March 2006
by Mary Martineau

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The Nguyens entertaining guests in Vietnam.

Thang Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. He and his entire family came to America as refugees in April 1975. At the age of 17, Thang arrived with his parents, sister and three brothers at the Fort Chaffey refugee camp in Arkansas. From there, “fate and luck” brought them to Columbus.

The Lutheran Church had chosen to sponsor another family from the camp and bring them to Ohio, but the selected family declined the offer. The Nguyens had a relative in Athens at Ohio University and knew that it was a good state for education. With five childrens’ schooling to consider they volunteered to make the move.

The generosity of the members of the All Saints Lutheran Church got them settled in Columbus. Thang attended Whetstone High School and later studied at The Ohio State University. He became a U.S. Citizen and took the Civil Service Exam to become a U.S. Postal Worker. He was hired by the Postal Service and still works for them today, but his favorite job is proprietor of Lac Viet Market at the North Market.

Thang was a frequent visitor to the North Market as a young man. He often drove his mother to the Quonset hut to do her shopping as it was the closest thing Columbus had to the markets of their home country. As a typical teenager, he’d grab his food and wait impatiently for his mother to complete her purchases.

His mother found the best selection and quality of fresh meat and produce back then (as you still can). She was a regular customer at Camp Chase Poultry and shared her method of deboning a chicken with the market’s chicken lady. “Chicken Annie” from back then is today known as Ann Leonard, proprietor of A Touch of Earth.

Thang’s parents loved to entertain and his mom, My ( pronounced “me”), was an exceptional cook. Old photos show the table at their home in Vietnam encircled by friends, including a few Americans.

Thang Nguyen (standing) hosts friends for a supper at his home in Columbus..

When Thang’s mother passed away, he longed for the traditional Vietnamese food she had created. Out of necessity, he taught himself how to make the cuisine that he missed. He inherited his parents’ passion for entertaining and would invite groups of friends to his house where he would cook for them. The small parties at his home grew to larger events and catering that he would do single-handedly out of his home. His penchant for cooking for others led him to open a stall at the North Market.

Thang knew that the customers at the North Market would appreciate his food. He opened Lac Viet Market in August 2004. The menu reflects the most popular Vietnamese foods that one would find in any big city. His dishes are simple, the popular soup, pho, and the sandwiches known as banh mit, are the mainstays, although in other U.S. cities you probably would not find both on the same menu!

Thang’s intuition that his food would be popular has been validated by the growth in his business and the number of regular customers who patronize his stand. You can measure the expansion by the equipment: from one grill to three and the six-gallon soup pot has been replaced by a 60 gallon commercial one.

Or you can gauge it in the depth of the line of customers at the stand during lunch or dinner. Familiar greetings flowing back and forth between proprietor and client. Thang shouts out the menu number of his regulars’ favorite dishes as they approach and they nod in accord.

Come partake in a big ceramic bowl of broken rice, noodles, your choice of accoutrements. Once you learn your favorite, it’s a sure bet that Thang will be cheerfully shouting it to you as you approach Lac Viet Market!

©2006 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. all rights reserved.