Chef Profile: Cafe Trang’s Anna Tran
A chat with the maven of Cafe Trang.
by Katherine Pioli
Anna Tran, well-dressed in black pants and a simple peach-colored jacket, moves between the tables of her downtown restaurant with small, smart steps. One moment she is greeting a group of casually dressed business men come for lunch. The next, she is directing the wait staff or conferencing with her husband, just emerged from the kitchen.
When Anna finally finds a moment to sit down, she appears slightly shy and demure. But, like her unassuming yet focused presence in the restaurant, she quickly sheds her reserve as she begins to tell her story.
Anna Tran, co-owner of Café Trang along with her husband Long Tran, will be the first to acknowledge that the restaurant business is demanding and difficult. For 21 years it has been her life, seven days a week, morning to evening.
When Anna’s family moved to Utah from Saigon, Vietnam in 1987, they decided to open a restaurant serving the food they knew from home. As immigrants in a new country, her family sacrificed time and even their wages to help the business survive during the first few years.
The entire family gave to the restaurant, but as a woman, Anna gave up much more. The demands of the family required her to join her mother Thao in the kitchen. In the beginning, Anna and her mother were the only chefs. "I had to quit college to help my parents because I was the oldest and a daughter. We had to support my brother to go to college."
Since that time Anna has been closely involved with the restaurant. She has become a successful business woman and seen Café Trang expand from one to four locations.
Part of the business’ success comes from its versatility. Although her family came from Vietnam, the food at Café Trang comes from various regions, Malaysia to Mongolia. The Saigon Noodle, a light dish with bits of egg roll and grilled pork, a cucumber garnish and garlic sauce, offers a taste of Vietnam. Cantonese Chow Fun, a popular choice with regular customers, is traditional Chinese. And, following the new Thai trend, Café Trang offers a Pad Thai which Anna says is a special Tran family recipe.
For vegetarians the choices also seem endless. Those who appreciate soft, golden tofu and a little bit of spice will love Hue’s Hot and Spicy Beancurd noodle soup, the vegetarian’s chicken noodle soup for the soul.
Their diverse menu hints that, after 21 years in business, the Trans still run their operation with a business savvy made for survival. Their oriental foods are perfectly altered to fit the western palate. Even their holiday décor, green Christmas wreaths hung next to red lotus lamps, creates a sense of familiarity for their clientele.
With such attention to creating a comfortable oriental and occidental setting, Café Trang could easily stay in business for another generation. But Anna Tran knows that her children will be able to make the choice that she could not.
"First and foremost is my children’s education," she stresses, "because working in the restaurant business is not easy. It is hard work, seven days a week, with long hours. It can be very tiring and very frustrating. I don’t want them to go through what I had to go through."
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