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Savor Asia: Que Viet's Dat and Lauren Le on cherishing tradition and opening a new restaurant

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MINNEAPOLIS —  Dat Le and his wife Lauren took over ownership of Que Viet in 1997, 17 years after Dat's mother opened up the location in north Minneapolis.

"I keep the tradition going," Dat said.

"I think you're just born with it," Lauren agreed. 

Dat nodded. He started in the restaurant when he was 10. At 12 years old, he was expediting. When he was tall enough, he learned how to cook.

Lauren and Dat Le WCCO

Back in the '80s, the Vietnamese community in Minnesota was small. There was just one other Vietnamese restaurant in St. Paul.

"My grandpa was riding his bike to work one day and he rode by the restaurant and he saw the for sale sign," explained Dat. "And then he went home and told my mom like there's this restaurant for sale you should go look at it. And then she went in and she found out how much it was which back in 1980 was $5,000. Which was a lot back then! Because she didn't have $5,000."

His mother, My, borrowed small amounts — $50, $20, — from everyone she knew. 

"There wasn't very many Vietnamese people here," Lauren said. "To ask somebody to borrow money was like a big deal. So $100 was a huge amount back then."


When Que Viet originally opened, they served the typical breakfast and burgers. Slowly, over time, they started serving more traditional fair.

In 1997, when Dat and Lauren took over, it was hard. He had to earn the respect of the community and the cooks. His mother was still in the kitchen, making sure everything was cooked the way it was supposed to be. The recipes weren't precise — the cooks measured everything by pinches and handfulls — so the dishes were difficult to replicate. For the first two years, Dat spent every waking moment at the restaurant.

Then in 2022, Dat and Lauren decided to open another restaurant — eM Que Viet — on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

eM Que Viet, on Grand Avenue in St. Paul WCCO

"I was I've been asking him, or actually begging him to open another restaurant forever," Lauren laughed. "And it was just never the right time." 

But luck finally fell into place. 

"At eM Que Viet, we want to be young and hip," said Lauren. Food is like fashion that comes and goes in waves. And in St. Paul, they've implemented an ever-changing menu with specials.

When they opened the new location, they wanted to make sure they started off on the right foot, and bring in all the luck they could get.

"In our culture, we're very superstitious," Lauren explained. "I think when you're younger you aren't so much, but I think it's grown on me as I got older."

The opening day of the restaurant was on a lucky day. They hosted a dragon dance, and they made sure that the first customer that walked in the door had the perfect zodiac.


Those superstitions carry over into the Lunar New Year.

"Depending on what year it is, we don't change up the decorations so much but we do change up the first person that walks through the door. So the first person is very important to us in our culture," said Lauren. "That person kind of stands for everything that's going to happen the whole year. So then you want to choose somebody who's very lucky, who's happy in their life, successful and then every year that person will change."

That focus on luck worked for them — right off the bat, Lauren said. As for the future, they don't know what it'll bring, but Lauren teased that it could include another location.             

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