Sunday afternoon, on my way to have lunch with my granddaughters, I stopped to pick up an order at Mai Lee in Richmond Heights. Robin had talked to the owner, Qui Tran (pronounced Kwee), who knows pretty much what our family enjoys. That would be the pho, the steaming bowls of beef broth and vegetables called foe by Americans; fuh by Vietnamese.
I waited in the car and before long Robin returned with the order and with her was Mr. Tran, patriarch of the family. He gave me a big hug, as the family does with its many long-time customers and thanked us for coming by. At Mai-Lee there’s the feel of being welcomed to the Tran’s home, which might explain why they’re often seen mingling with noodle-slurping diners.
A Real Life Success Story
We have been eating at Mai-Lee for 20 years and watched them outgrown their space on Delmar and relocate to a busy shopping complex off I-40. When they did, business blossomed. Success couldn’t happen to a more deserving and hardworking immigrant family. In 1977, the Trans barely escaped Vietnam and spent years in refugee camps before settling in St. Louis in 1980.
Qui’s mother, Lee Tran, at the time unable to speak English, worked in local Asian restaurants until the family scraped together the money to open their own Chinese restaurant in 1985. Later they switched to a Vietnamese menu, making them the first Vietnamese restaurant in the St. Louis area.
Come Slurp with Us
Qui grew up in the business doing everything from handing out flyers on the street to washing dishes. He continues to be a bundle of energy with a charming smile and ingratiating manner. Currently, the young entrepreneur is working on a long-held dream of opening a ramen noodle shop. The much-revered Japanese dish will feature fresh ingredients, homemade noodles and depths of flavor. Nudo House debuts this spring on Olive. I can hardly wait to see Qui and suggest this slogan for the new business: “Come Slurp with Us.”
Bowls of Fresh, Heartwarming Fare
Family Fun with Pho
Mai Lee Restaurant, 8396 Musick Memorial Dr. Open: Tue-Thu 11a-9p; Fri-Sat 11a-10p; Sun 11a-9p. Adjacent garage parking is free.