This story was originally published on orangecountysbdc.org.
Tam Le is no stranger to making food people can’t get enough of. Her bakery, aptly named Tam’s Bakery, was already a staple for dozens of Garden Grove families, college students, and locals. The immense popularity of an off-menu item, a soup served to royalty in her native Vietnam, prompted Tam and her husband, Richard Lai, to consider opening a restaurant.
“My wife’s family has been making that soup for three generations, so she’s proficient at it. She wanted to serve it so she began making small batches and selling it at the bakery. It quickly became so well-known in Little Saigon that we had to create an area for people to eat the soup in. That made us really want to open a restaurant,” Richard explains.
The dream takes shape
Tam and Richard dedicated themselves to making this restaurant’s atmosphere welcoming with delicious specialty foods that would bring their customers and their family and friends back for more. They had a clear vision: to create a hybrid space where people could either sit down and enjoy a relaxed meal on white linen or grab delicious breakfast, lunch or dinner items to go. Once they located the space, they needed the funds to begin work.
Thanks to the loan secured for tenant improvements from their friend and partner, Lan Kable, Tam and Richard’s dreams of opening a restaurant became a reality.
All three of us are integral parts of this project. Without me, Tam’s restaurant is just an idea. Without Richard, Tam’s Restaurant won’t materialize the way it is and without Tam’s cooking skills, the restaurant wouldn’t survive.Lan Kable
Crucial help at a crucial time
Katie Nguyen, a consultant with the Orange County Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and Nate Jemison, a regional consultant for the Orange County Inland Empire SBDC Finance Center hosted by Cal State Fullerton worked with the couple and Lan Kable on their financial projections and bank plan to secure the loans they needed to start the restaurant. Through the SBDC’s experience and network of contacts, the team connected them to the City of Garden Grove and helped them obtain two loans totaling $50,000 to bridge financing needs at a crucial time.
Richard points out that, over the course of seven months, they overhauled the restaurant with their own hands. They did everything from laying ceramic tile and fixing the bathrooms to pouring the concrete for an outdoor patio.
We even bought a sewing machine and upholstered the booths ourselves.
Richard, a seasoned businessman with the energy of a dozen people, explains why he and Tam, both originally from Vietnam, make such a great team. “Tam amazes me. She’s an incredible chef and a hard worker. She does it all with a smile on her face. I bring a business background, so what she has I don’t have and what I have she doesn’t. We need each other and we respect each other,” Richard says.
Diners can look forward to a full menu filled with Vietnamese specialties like traditional pho, shaking beef, chicken pâté chaud, bánh mì sandwiches, house-made bao, spring rolls, and much more. The couple even makes their own yogurt – fully licensed and delicious. Of course, Tam’s Restaurant and Sandwiches also offers Tam’s famous desserts and baked goods.