By SHELLY WILKISON
Seeking a better life for his family, Tuong Quach left his native Vietnam four years after war’s end and started over.
Sponsored by an American family, Quach left his home in a small rural community outside Saigon in 1979 and moved to Austin with a dream of someday owning a business.
Across the globe three decades later, the Quach family found a home for their dream in Liberty Hill and today enjoy sharing some of their favorite recipes with local families at Happy Wok.
Nghi Quach, who was only three years old at the time her parents came to the United States, said her family worked in the textile industry in Vietnam.
“My parents wanted a better life for their children so they took the opportunity presented to them to come here,” she said.
A partner in the restaurant with her father (whose friends refer to him as Tom), Nghi said her father got his start in the industry when he and a friend began a restaurant supply business that distributed meat products to Asian restaurants in Austin. That opened the door for him to purchase Saigon Kitchen from one of his customers.
When asked to share their family’s story with The Independent recently, Nghi said her father preferred her to speak for him because of her fluency in English. Nghi is a graduate of The University of Texas where she earned a degree in biology.
“Right after graduation, I went to help my dad at the restaurant supply company and really enjoyed the business aspect,” she said. “I’ve worked for a couple of restaurants since the age of 15, so I decided to join my dad in his first restaurant venture at Saigon Kitchen and we’ve been partners ever since.”
The Quach family eventually sold Saigon Kitchen to relatives and opened the Dragonfly in Lakeline Mall in 2003. While the restaurant was a great success, the rent became so expensive that they decided to close.
“A friend told him about this great space in Liberty Hill, which made the decision to close Dragonfly easier,” she said.
Nghi said the dishes served at Happy Wok are unique and the recipes “travelled from our first restaurant.
“Our family heritage is from China and Vietnam so we wanted to incorporate this into our menu,” she said. “When we took over Saigon Kitchen, the entire ‘old’ staff quit on us except for one little elderly lady.”
The woman came to appreciate Nghi’s husband’s work ethic and agreed to teach him how to prepare the dishes. Nghi said it was her husband who actually came up with the name Happy Wok.
“We were brainstorming and knew we wanted the word ‘wok’ to be in the name,” she recalls. “He said, ‘why not happy wok?’ We wanted this place to make people happy so it was perfect.”
Nghi said her family has come to love Liberty Hill.
“He (Tom) has really come to love this small town and the people of the community have been so welcoming,” she said.
“My dad loves to cook, but he does not cook at the restaurant,” Nghi said. “He loves to cook for family gatherings and will use any excuse to get us together. That’s where some of these special creations originate from. He’ll try them out on us before adding them to the menu.”
Among the family’s personal favorites on the Happy Wok menu are Shaken Steak, Salt and Pepper Shrimp and the Clay Pot.
“These have become our customers’ favorites as well,” she said, adding that additional best sellers include the Calamari, Spicy Lettuce Wraps, Sesame Chicken and the Bangkok Basil.
“We use top quality meats and seafood and fresh produce in all our entrees,” she said. “We take special pride in our food and only want to serve the best to our customers.”
Nghi said a few years ago, she became interested again in pursuing a career in the medical field and returned to school for training in diagnostic ultrasound. Today, she works full-time at North Austin Medical Center as a sonographer. While she is still involved in the restaurant business, she said her father runs the day-to-day operations.
Located at 13750 W. SH 29, Suite 4, the Quach family welcomes guests for lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lunch specials are served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.