Thuy Pham, owner and Chef of Mama Đút

Mama Đút is the first entry in a our new ALIST Women-Owned blog series. Follow along as we celebrate the stories of local women on their path to business ownership. By Amanda Mailey

This year I’ve thought a lot about getting sidetracked. It’s not just the title of my book. It’s a thing. Life can turn out different than you planned or you were so planned that you weren’t open to other paths or other people. And it’s these key moments that could awaken talents inside yourself. Gifts that could go undiscovered and you’d miss out on learning what more you are capable of being. 

Whatever the life changing event, I believe everything happens for a reason. For many, 2020 has been that event. I started this week sitting across from Thuy Pham. We met briefly while I was promoting my book at Cramoisi Winery and she was wine tasting. We got to talking and I learned she’s opening her own restaurant featuring inspired Vietnamese vegan dishes. But Thuy isn’t a long time chef. She’s an owner of a private in-home salon, mother to 2nd grader Kinsley, and enjoys home cooking. When covid-19 hit, Thuy was in search of other ways to make income during the quarantine. I immediately wanted to know more. I shared the recent launch of my consulting business, which although fulfilling, it has me searching for other BIPOC women entrepreneurs to talk to. And in Portland, OR it doesn’t seem like there are a lot. Wanting the conversation to continue, we exchanged information and a week later we’re chatting over coffee outside of a strip mall.

“Everyone keeps telling me they love my story,” Thuy laughs. “My story? Oh, you mean my life.”

She looks away to laugh again, but there is more to this. It’s in her eyes. She leans forward and I sit back and listen.  

Even though Thuy started selling vegan pork belly for the first time on April 24, 2020, the name Mama Đút was registered 2 years ago. She didn’t know what it would be, but Mama Đút means “Momma will feed you” in Vietnamese and it’s a phrase she and her daughter used together all the time. The girl in the restaurant logo is Kinsley, which Thuy sketched and her sister, who is a graphic designer, finished. Everything feels in homage to being a mother and wonderful role model to her strong and bright young girl.

“I knew nothing about the restaurant industry only a few months ago. I was just ‘bored in my house, bored’ like the rest of the world. I started to research vegan Vietnamese cooks on youTube. I watched Chefs from different parts of Vietnam with dialects I had a hard time understanding. The process was me connecting to my Vietnamese heritage in a way. To share more with my daughter. One show was even filmed with what looked like a jungle in the background.” 

We both laugh and I push for some clarification. “Are you saying, you taught yourself how to make vegan pork belly from watching Vietnamese cooking shows on youTube?”

In her sincere and real way, Thuy laughs at herself and seems embarrassed it isn’t a different story. But I love everything about this path. She tells me there wasn’t one cook that gave her the recipe. It’s a combination of what she learned from each of them plus her own trial and error batches. It’s a recipe she holds close. It only lives in her mind. Nothing on paper just yet.

As a pescatarian with mostly a vegetarian diet, I am always in search of good food that isn’t full of cheese and gluten. I’ve tried the vegan pork belly at the Van Hanh Restaurant on Division and I can’t wait to try Thuy’s rendition. The food she’s cooked in past pop-ups sells out quickly. Her recent invitation to be featured in the Chef In My Garden series this month was a huge success. Getting the keys to her new restaurant, only days before plating the Chef in My Garden menu in collaboration with Growing Gardens, made Thuy more sure this is what she is meant to pursue right now.

“I grew up poor. I know what it’s like to fear having to skip a meal because there is no food. My passion project comes from a real place. I want to use this platform to support others, bring people together over food, save the piggies, and help the planet. But I do believe it takes a village to launch a business. I feel grateful for all the support of the community. And that I live in a place where people care about who and what they support with their money. I have so many ideas on how Mama Đút will expand. I want to feed the world.”

I get goosebumps as I listen to this confident and smart Vietnamese-American business woman. She seems unstoppable. It’s hard not to feed off her energy as a Filipina-American and at a time I’m feeling more comfortable in my own skin. Thuy isn’t stopping at the hard worker status. She’s owning her status, building a legacy, exploring her creativity, and doing it her way. After we parted, I sat in my car processing what just happened. Getting sidetracked has us both exploring our passions and doing it to serve causes we believe in. I am fortunate my friend Sofia Torres, the co-owner of the winery, encouraged me to get out and promote my book that day. Saying ‘yes’ and choosing me led me to Thuy.

Thank you Thuy Pham for gifting me with your time. I wish you, Kinsley and Mama Đút nothing but great things. Good luck on your soft launch of your restaurant on November 7, 2020. You have made me a lifelong fan. 

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