Chef Chat, Part 1: Kim Ly of Café Shoppe

EaDo's newest Vietnamese spot, Café Shoppe, opened on August 1. It's just as bright and cheery as its owner and chef Kim Ly. With colorful walls and a '70s soundtrack, Ly's adorable restaurant is like a banh mi boutique.

EOW: Tell me how you got into the restaurant business.

KL: I started out just staying at home, having friends over, eating, cooking. They all liked my food and said, "Kim why don't you try to cook?" I like to cook, and I eat out a lot, see what's outside. I see what a lot of people like, and I try to make it into a little bit different: my style.

EOW: Where did you cook before this?

KL: My parents have a shopping mall [Kim Hung]. Somebody who was there before used to have sandwiches, and they closed out a year before. I decided to open a little sandwich shop because my parents told me people kept asking about this banh mi, these sandwiches. There's nothing in downtown at the time, so I said, "Okay, let me try to open one." My parents also have a traditional Chinese lunch where they cook roasted duck, barbecued pork, in the Chinese tradition. So I said, "Okay, we'll combine together and make banh mi and Chinese food." So I opened up there, and a lot of people liked it. They liked the way I had my food marinating, very tasty.

So I decided I'm going to go ahead and open outside. In there, it was kind of like in a food court area. Nowadays, people just don't have that food court area anymore...people like to sit outside, kind of like a hangout. I decided I wanted to open something like that. Most of my clientele are a lot of Americans. I want to make it convenient, because everything has moved back out to Southwest. No Chinese or Asian food down here.

EOW: What makes your food different?

KL: I cook it healthy. We watch what we eat today a lot, so trying to keep in shape, healthy, I decided to make everything very organic. Less grease, less fried, more grilled.

EOW: How would you describe your menu? Is it all Vietnamese food?

KL: Most of it is Vietnamese style. Vietnamese sandwiches, also the Vietnamese dishes like the vermicelli bowl and steamed rice with all the grilled meats.

EOW: How long have you lived in Houston?

KL: Thirty-two years. I came here in 1979 from Vietnam. I stayed here in Houston all my life. It's a very interesting story about how I got here...

Interesting? A huge understatement. Check back tomorrow for Ly's tale of Thai pirates that led her all the way to Café Shoppe.

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