WENATCHEE — When Cuc Tran Cafe first opened over 40 years ago, it was a fast food-style restaurant operating out of a small space. Tran would make fresh eggrolls every morning and sell them to go. In 1978, Cup Tran Cafe was one of the only Asian restaurants in Wenatchee.
Tran said she has introduced many people to authentic Vietnamese cooking in Wenatchee – and it's these customers who keep coming back and bringing their friends and family that have kept Cuc Tran Cafe in business for so long.
“People tell other people about us. I’ve never had advertising for 40 years,” Tran said.
Tran moved into the current space at 7 N. Wenatchee Ave. in 1990. The larger restaurant let diners sit down and enjoy their meals. Tran expanded her menu to include fresh-cooked Vietnamese dishes including pho, teriyaki and noodle dishes.
Tran said she learned to cook from her family’s cook in Vietnam, who cooked without any measurements, going instead by taste and smell. She opened Cuc Tran Cafe three years after immigrating from South Vietnam to the U.S.
“Actually, I never planned to open a restaurant, but I have a lot kids,” she said. “I wanted to open a restaurant so they could learn to work and to help them out.”
All of seven of her children have worked in the restaurant with her at one point or another. Two of her sons, Huy Nguyen, 47,
and Hoang Nguyen, 44, still do. She said her children earned money to go to college by working at the cafe during summers off from school. Now, her children are all grown, but the tradition continues.
“I have a lot of grandchildren now, and when they come home they all work,” Tran said.
It’s not just Tran’s family that’s been at the restaurant for generations. She said she’s had customers bring in their children and grandchildren to eat.
“I have a family that has been coming for three generations,” she said. “I am very lucky. I’ve had my customers so many years.”
She said her customers, and especially her regulars, are the best part of the job. Some of them have become family friends over time.
“I have wonderful customers. It makes me feel really good when I come here and see the customer and they see me and treat me like family,” she said. “I learn a lot from those people. They’re very kind, especially people in Wenatchee.”
Tran said that people come back because their food is fresh and consistent.
“Every time they come back, the food tastes the same,” she said. “I make each order per person – I don’t cook ahead.”
Tran said she used to work 16 hours a day, six days a week before a surgery on her arm. Now, it’s closer to 12 hour days, five days a week.
“I come here every morning and cut vegetables and trim the meat and make my own sauces,” she said. “I do everything fresh.”
Dishes like pho can take hours to make –the broth is boiled for up to six hours before being refrigerated.
For Tran, her ingredients are what make her food special. Vietnamese food is full of spices like lemongrass, ginger and garlic, which are said to have health benefits, and many dishes are loaded with veggies. She said she feels good knowing she’s cooking healthy, authentic food for her customers.
When she first started, eggrolls were her signature dish. Now, she said, she serves a lot of everything on her menu. For new customers, she’ll help them pick a dish that’s right for them. As for spice, she said all of her dishes can be made without any heat at all. This means most people can find something on the menu they’ll enjoy.
Although Tran has been working in the kitchen at her restaurant for over 40 years now, she said she still enjoys working and has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“I’ll work until I’m 80, so I’ll be okay,” she said. “I don’t feel tired. I want to keep my brain working.”