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The daughters of longtime New Saigon owners opening a new restaurant

Growing up, the back alleyway of New Saigon Restaurant was a playground for the five Nguyen sisters. They napped on restaurant coolers, while restaurant employees helped them with their schoolwork. “It was our home,” said An, the second-oldest daughter.

Their parents, Ha Pham and Thai Nguyen, ran the Vietnamese restaurant for nearly 30 years, from 1987 when they bought it from the previous owners, until 2017 when they sold the business. But last month, New Saigon, which had become a Denver staple, closed for good as Pham and Thai Nguyen have decided to sell the building, which they still own.

Even so, the couple left a culinary legacy behind them.

One daughter, Thu, still runs New Saigon Bakery & Deli next door to the original restaurant, at 630 S. Federal Blvd., while another, Thoa opened her own fusion bakery 11 miles northeast, the highly acclaimed Banh & Butter Bakery Cafe in Aurora; Thoa recently competed on the Food Network’s “Holiday Baking Championship,” finishing in the top four.

A third sister, An, opened Savory Vietnam at 2200 W. Alameda Ave., less than a mile away from New Saigon, in 2019, earning high praise locally for her menu. She closed Savory Vietnam in December due to a retiring business partners and a spike in rent.

Now, An and a fourth sister, Thao, who is a real estate agent, are teaming up to open a new comfort Vietnamese food restaurant called Dân Dã (pronounced yungh-yaa).

“The torch is being passed down,” An said. But that torch is also moving: Dân Dã will be located next door to Banh & Butter in the former Baba & Pop’s pierogi shop at 9945 E. Colfax Ave.

“We appreciate them for the foundation and legacy they’ve built, but we want to steer in a different direction outside of South Federal,” An said about her parents. “It’s a new generation.”

The location also made sense from a family perspective. “We’re very close as sisters, and Thoa is doing so well here, so it was an obvious choice,” Thao said.

“Hopefully, I don’t regret this,” Thoa joked.

The 42-seat restaurant, which could open as soon as April, is much smaller than both New Saigon and Savory Vietnam, but that will give An a chance to experiment more with traditional recipes using modern presentations. “We want people to taste what we ate for comfort after school,” she said. “Vietnamese food is so much more than pho.”

In fact, Dân Dã is a Vietnamese term that describes the rustic countryside of Vietnam, and the menu has a “food for the commoners” feel, An said.

An mentored under her mother for roughly 15 years, but her connection to food goes back even further. Before their parents bought New Saigon, their mom worked for the previous owners there, and “my mom was pregnant with me while working the wok,” An said. “So you could say I was born into the business.”

An is still creating the menu, which will be smaller than Savory Vietnam, but she plans to bring back some signature dishes, including seafood and clam plates and DIY spring rolls. “You can come have dinner at Dân Dã, and then visit Banh & Butter for dessert,” Thao said.

The sisters want Dân Dã to be a tribute to their parents, who fled Vietnam on a small boat packed with 120 people. Thao, who was only 1 year old at the time, floated with them for seven days before they were rescued by an oil rig and sent to a refugee camp in Indonesia. “Mom and dad actually sold their wedding rings just to get me some crackers, which shows how much my parents are willing to sacrifice for their kids,” Thao said. Relatives later brought them to Colorado, where they worked odd jobs until taking over New Saigon Restaurant.

“When they didn’t speak any English at all, food was their way of communicating,” An said.

Eventually, An and Thao — and their husbands and co-owners, Viet Nguyen and Khai Bui — would like to grow beyond the one restaurant in Aurora and open multiple concepts throughout Colorado.

“At the root of it all, we’ve been in this industry for so long, we’ve grown up in it, and we just want to continue to serve great, delicious Vietnamese food for any community, not just one,” Thao said.

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