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From Ho Chi Minh City to the Hobbs Buffet

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Couple takes long journey from Vietnam to owners of Hobbs restaurant

JENNY MOODY FOR THE NEWS-SUN

One wouldn’t normally think to connect Vietnam and Hobbs, yet for Loi Tran and Van Nguyen, the owners of Hobbs Buffet, and Hai Khuu, the manager of Hobbs Buffet, the link between the two locations on opposite sides of the world spans decades, multiple businesses, and strong connections to family.

The country of Vietnam lies in the shape of a lazy S against the South China Sea. Green forests cover the mountainous regions of the North while rice paddies make up the majority of the wet tropical lowlands of the south.

On April 30, 1975 North Vietnamese troops toppled the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon — now known as Ho Chi Minh City — leading to a decisive end to the controversial Vietnam War as South Vietnam fell to the communist North, uniting under the banner of the Socialists Republic of Vietnam.

Tran’s father served in the South Vietnamese army and had aided the Americans. These connections with Americans made life hard for Tran’s family, he said.

After the war, as the Vietnam people continued to lose freedoms under communist rule, those who had helped or were sympathetic to the Americans were put in prison, or relocated to camps in the north. Poverty, continued violence, and political oppression made life dangerous and difficult to flourish.

Tran’s father was eventually able to relocate to America through a subunit of the The Orderly Departure Program, named Humanitarian Operation (HO). This program was created to help Vietnamese refugees flee their country safely.

Tran’s family arrived in Seattle, Washington in 1995.

Tran eventually made his way to Hobbs, New Mexico, a place that was, “very different from Seattle’’ he says with a smile. Although lacking the green vegetation of the Pacific Northwest, Hobbs offered something even better — opportunity.

Tran’s friend, Khuu, describes him as a man “who can fix anything” and how Loi’s talent to fix anything from cars, to appliances, to buildings became an asset as he went to work and started a nail salon named Time for Nails on Dal Paso.

It wasn’t long before Tran had helped build other salons that are now owned by family members who were also able to relocate to America.

While Loi was building a small nail empire, Khuu was working as a manager for the Furr’s Buffet company — a job he held for more than 30 years and took him to different locations throughout the southwest and landing in Hobbs nine years ago.

Khuu’s journey to America was a perilous one.

At the age of 17, he paid money for a seat on a small boat allowing him to flee Vietnam, becoming what historians call “boat people.”

Khuu was one of thousands who boarded these small vessels from 1975 through the 1990s with each person hoping for a better life and opportunity in America, he said. With a smile he recounts seeing the big oil rigs off the shores of Indonesia and being mesmerized by the lights and bulk of the rigs.

After a short stay in Indonesia, Khuu was able to make his way to America.

More than two  years ago Furr’s Buffet was ready to close down and Khuu saw an opportunity, so he called his friend Tran to see if he was interested in the restaurant business.

He was.

Calls were made and Tran soon entered the restaurant business.

The new owner soon experienced an enormous stumbling block with the emergence the COVID-19 virus just a month after purchasing the restaurant.

Nail salons were closed, as were restaurants, as everyone tried to navigate the COVID precautions and mandates from the state.

Tran’s wife, Van Nguyen, had recently come to America after having lived in Vietnam for 7 years of their married life, and had been in America only a month before the lockdowns began.

With grit and a determination to succeed and provide for their family during the pandemic, they began a mini business via Facebook.

Tran Food Loi was launched and for the next few months, the couple made egg rolls, Vietnamese noodles, and other authentic dishes for delivery.

The business was a success and quickly spread by word of mouth.

As government restrictions lessened, and things began to open up, the couple again turned their attention to the restaurant. They employed Khuu, because of his expertise and experience in the restaurant business, as manager. Nguyen’s accounting degree added additional help and Tran’s ability to fix any problem made them a formidable team.

Learning the ropes of the restaurant business has taken some time and compromise, the couple said.

Creating a place fostering a family atmosphere is important to Tran, Nguyen, and Khuu, and they hope their employees feel like family and patrons feel welcome.

Through it all, there is a great deal of optimism surrounding these three people. They believe in the American dream. They are grateful for the freedoms of this country, as it has allowed them the opportunity to build businesses and support their families right here in Hobbs, America.

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