DeKALB – Bea Pham thinks that her restaurant’s customers are special. To her, they’re not customers, they’re family, and after three decades serving them her own Vietnamese food, they’re now weathering the COVID-19 pandemic together.
“They’re my family, and I appreciate them,” Pham said. “They support me through hard times and good times.”
Pham is the owner of Bea’s Wok’n Roll, located at 1402 Sycamore Road in DeKalb.
The Vietnamese restaurant celebrated its 30th anniversary June 1.
Pham’s first foray into serving food came one town over, when she first opened a restaurant serving hot dogs in Sycamore across the street from the old K-Mart, now Hy-Vee.
Although her customers loved her hot dogs, they frequently ordered samples of Vietnamese food she had for sale on the side, she said. After seven years, she decided to stop selling hot dogs and reimagine her mission, turning her life’s work into a Vietnamese restaurant. The rest, three decades later, is history.
Changes during the pandemic
Pham said that although the pandemic has made her restaurant a carryout-only business currently, not much has changed with her business model. She has always had three employees.
“Before [the pandemic], we were about 70% carryout and 30% eat-in, but now it’s carryout only,” Pham said. “I miss having my customers come in. I miss having them sitting down at a table and eating a nice meal. Taking it home is a bit different.”
Pham said that she will continue to abide by the health department’s guidelines and not allow customers to eat inside her restaurant.
“It’s not up to us, it’s up to the health department and the governor,” she said. “I have to obey the law and protect customers, employees and myself. My restaurant is very small, and there’s not a lot of air to circulate. It’s safer to take your food home and eat it at home with your family.”
When customers stop by the restaurant to pick up their carryout orders, Pham herself walks out to their car wearing a mask and hand-delivers their food. She chats with each customer and asks about their family.
“I serve them even if it’s cold outside,” Pham said. “I always take the time to talk to them. I do that because I’m concerned about them and their well-being. I care about them.”
Pham said that many of her customers call to place an order when they’re not feeling well, asking her to make them soup.
“If they don’t feel good, if their son or daughter or husband or wife doesn’t feel good, I make soup for them,” Pham said.
Dahlia Roman of DeKalb orders food from Bea’s at least once a week. Roman’s family has been dining at Bea’s for more than 20 years.
“Her authentic, amazing food makes you want to come back,” Roman said. “She knows your name, she asks me about my kids and my family. She’s always reminding me to eat my vegetables.”
Pham describes her restaurant’s food as “fresh with real ingredients.”
“Nothing is made beforehand, everything is made when ordered,” she said. “I’ll cook what they want. If they have an allergy or are vegan, [they] let me know. In 15 to 20 minutes, I will have it ready.”
Tony Chulick of DeKalb often has visited Bea’s through the years to eat with his family and friends.
“I love Bea’s because the food is always fresh and she knows exactly what we like,” he said. “The food is always good and Bea is great.”
More than good food
Jim Ruhl of DeKalb usually eats at Bea’s two to four times a month. He said he doesn’t have a favorite item on the menu because “the food is delicious and everything you get is fresh.”
“Bea is the restaurant,” Ruhl said. “She’s the atmosphere, and she’s why we all keep coming back.”
Pham said her customers are the reason she continues to keep the restaurant open, even amid the pandemic’s many challenges.
“I’ll stay open as long as they want me to stay in business,” she said. “My customers love me, and I love them. I love serving them from the bottom of my heart.”
Pham said that her “only hope” is that her customers love her food.
“I want them to open their box and love it and say that it’s their comfort food,” she said. “I love my customers, they’re so wonderful. I hope they continue to support me. I’m happy to be here every day for almost 31 years.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle