The atmosphere is relaxing. Bamboo drawings liven up the white walls. There is a display with an assortment of pastries from New Orleans bakery Chez Pierre. In the corner, a TV in front of plush chairs replays an LSU football game. Manager and executive chef Jonathan Nguyen sits in a table having an early dinner after a day of work. It’s a tranquil afternoon at Pandan, Northgate’s newest eatery.
For Nguyen, the restaurant business is nothing new. In fact, it’s a family affair. Pandan’s owner is his wife, Lynn Nguyen.
“We’ve had a business called Chez Pierre in Metairie for over 20 years,” Jonathan said. “Since we moved to Clearview from Kenner, our business really picked up after that. That’s what drove us to open Pandan.”
Lynn, a University alumna, conceived the restaurant with students in mind, drawing from her own experiences during her time as a student.
“I’m envisioning to be able to branch this restaurant into a franchise, [see] if I can look at other college areas and bring it to them,” Lynn said. “Because it’s cheap eat, affordable, and it’s fresh for students to be able to get hot meals at an affordable price.”
Located in the College Row shopping center, Pandan Vietnamese Teahouse & Café will see its grand opening on Jan. 12. The restaurant will serve a variety of Vietnamese foods, including banh mi sandwiches, pho, a dish selected with college students in mind called poor man’s noodles and the popular bubble tea. Guests can enjoy BOGO bubble teas, coupons and gift card giveaways during the grand opening.
With Pandan, Lynn hopes to bring affordable, fresh food to students. A sandwich at Pandan will cost less than $5 and be made to order with fresh French bread, a staple of Vietnamese sandwiches, and chosen meats cooked to order. Lynn also chose the poor man’s noodles dish because it is inexpensive and filling. She hopes to be able to offer more options in the future.
“I would love one day to, if we have leftover rice, stir fry that, call it a poor man’s fried rice, and offer that at a very cheap price for the students who can’t afford to have fancy meals,” Lynn said.
When she was a student, Lynn struggled financially. She was raised by her grandparents who could only afford to get her to school. As a result, she had to work in order to feed herself. If she was unable to work, she had to forfeit food.
“Some days I’d go without a meal and just try to eat an ice cream cone just to get through school,” Lynn said. “So I feel [the students].”
The Nguyens see this as an opportunity to give back to the community. Lynn expects to hire mostly students because of her struggles to find work. All of Lynn’s children, two of whom are University students, work at Pandan.
“That’s my main goal,” Lynn said. “Sometimes parents don’t have money to support and sometimes they’re just on their own trying to get an education.”
As a family-built restaurant, Lynn’s children have also had a part in building Pandan. It was Lynn’s daughter, the youngest child and a future LSU tiger, who painted the bamboo art seen on the walls.
“At first, I thought it out with get-your-meal-and-sit-down, but my kids decided they want to bring it to the table and serve [the customers],” Lynn said.
She adds that Pandan offers an opportunity for her to spend time with her children while they learn the process of building a business from the ground up.
“Matthew is going into business, so this is gonna be something that he’s gonna expand eventually in his career,” Lynn said.
Pandan is currently open during their soft opening period. Business hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that the pastries in the display were from Dong Phuong. It has been updated. The Reveille regrets this error.