“The ideal job was in an office. Wear a tie,” Hau Doan recalls of his Vietnamese immigrant upbringing. Fortunately for Charlotte lovers of Viet street food, he’s taken a different path.
At age 2, Doan’s family fled South Vietnam when the Communists took over, hidden in the bottom of a fishing boat. They washed up in Malaysia, then made their way to Virginia – “America, where the streets are paved with gold,” he says, chuckling but serious.
His parents sacrificed to send him to Virginia Tech to study finance. After graduating, he wound up in Charlotte (where relatives had opened one of the city’s first nail salons in Dilworth in 1994) and was making good money working at financial firms.
“But I always had a passion for cooking,” he confesses. In college, he cooked for friends – to the consternation of his mother: “She’d say, ‘We got you a meal plan. Focus and study!’ ”
In 2016, the love of food, plus the challenge of building his own business, won out. He opened Banh Mi Brothers with younger sibling Luan.
Their menu honors tradition, but offers new twists. Appetizers include summer rolls, chilled and plump with shrimp and pork. But you’ll also find pork rinds with seasoning borrowed from Thai tom yum soup.
The banh mi (sub sandwiches) feature toasty French bread stuffed with veggies and your choice of meats. Some are expected: grilled pork, lemongrass chicken. But there’s also porchetta – roasted pig, inspired by both Italian tradition and Viet New Year’s cooking.
Least-expected dish? The Pho-Tine. On a college jaunt to Montreal, Doan and pals discovered poutine, Canada’s signature gravy-and-meat-smothered french fries. Doan reduces Vietnamese pho soup to a roux and adds slices of beef, creating his own new comfort-food favorite.
“Mom’s still not sure about all this,” Doan says, laughing.
Banh Mi Brothers
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.
Location: 230 W.T. Harris Blvd., Suite A-7 (at North Tryon Street).
Details: 704-900-7842; www.BanhMiBrothers-CLT.com.