In 2015, Kim Nguyen and her brother, Binh Nguyen, opened Salt Lake’s first all-vegan Vietnamese restaurant in Fairpark. Called All Chay — “chay” is Vietnamese for vegetarian — the Nguyens sought to serve vegan food that was not just good but affordable.
Though some relatives doubted it would fly, the eatery was soon so successful Nguyen found herself training family to open two other restaurants: Vegan Bowl in West Jordan and Vegan Sun in Provo (which is now managed by Binh Nguyen).
Recently, Nguyen handed the operation of All Chay over to her son, Trung Tham, and his cousin, Thinh Nguyen, both in their mid-20s.
“In the last year, my mom stepped down as head honcho,” Tham said. “She’s still around, she hangs out all the time, the customers recognize her, but she’s passed it down to the younger generation.”
Tham said regular customers have already noticed some small changes he and Nguyen have implemented. Among the changes: Modernizing the dining room decor, and using the delivery service DoorDash.
“That’s pretty exciting for us, because when we first opened, everything was hand-written,” Tham said. “There was no automated system, it was totally mom-and-pop. So it’s a big deal to be able to serve a wider community.”
Because Tham and Nguyen own the building at 1264 W. 500 North in Salt Lake City’s Rose Park neighborhood, Tham said they’re throwing around all kinds of ideas, including summer block parties, live music, record-release parties and murals. They’re thinking about throwing a big event around the restaurant’s anniversary, when they’ll reveal some upgrades.
“We just want to make it a hip place to hang out,” Tham said. “We just want to make it really fun.”
Tham is quick to note that the restaurant’s philosophy, and the food itself, will stay the same.
Vegan pho is a nearly impossible thing to get right, he said. And they do get it right. Tham said he always takes it as a huge compliment when people don’t realize All Chay is vegan, even after two or three visits.
“Anyone who knows how pho is traditionally made is flabbergasted [that it’s vegan], because it takes a long time of cooking and prepping, and you have to simmer down beef stock — it’s very intensive,” Tham said.
“We’ve narrowed it down to a really beautiful rhythm. We do cook it for a long period of time, for eight hours-plus, and there’s a lot of love, but the secret is that we use so many different kinds of vegetables and fruits and different seasonings. It just really beautifully mimics the beef flavor.”
If the pho was the toughest to adapt, the bun — or noodle salads — were the easiest. “The only thing we really had to play with was the protein,” Tham said. “We play with tofu, seitan, so many different textures of vegan meat. We were able to make it taste very similar to the traditional Vietnamese bun.”
Bun is one of the most popular dishes at All Chay, along with such other traditional favorites as bahn mi. Tham said his favorite is the cold noodle salads, especially during the summer.
“They’re light and they leave you feeling great, like you can just go out and just go for a hike,” he said.
All Chay also offers a huge variety of rolls, including fresh spring, summer, autumn, winter, and four-season rolls; stir-fried ramen; flan; and vegan Thai iced tea. Most items are around $11 or less.
“That’s the biggest takeaway,” Tham says. “We want to serve everyone in the community. We don’t want to be elitist, with crazy high prices. The core value of All Chay is affordable, healthy vegan food for everyone. We welcome everyone, too. We want to see new faces. We want to see regulars. And I think if you talk to any of our customers, our regulars, they will tell you that we kind of treat them like family in this establishment. And it’s really important to us that we keep that going.”
All Chay • 1264 W. 500 North, Salt Lake City, 801-521-4789. Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday.
Vegan Bowl • 8673 Redwood Road, West Jordan, 801-692-7237. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.
Vegan Sun • 225 W. Center St., Provo, 801-375-0807. Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 8 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m., Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday; noon to 8 p.m., Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.
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