DES MOINES, Iowa – From her padded stool perch in the corner of her restaurant, Vietnam Cafe, owner Brenda Tran reigns over the food court – part mama bear, part perpetual party host.
On a typical day, Tran watches new customers settle into tables and chow down, sometimes running into the dining room to hold impromptu lessons on the finer points of Vietnamese cuisine. Swirl your pho noodles like spaghetti! Lean down and slurp the broth!
She chats with her “mall walkers” as they nosh on her special Vietnamese egg sandwiches. After losing her father a decade ago, she considers them her “American parents,” an honor they take to heart.
She beckons over “the kids,” teens either suspended or cutting class from the local high school. She tells them her story, how she survived the Vietnam War and came to Iowa as a refugee, not knowing a lick of English