Yume Tran says she's made thousands of friends by serving food in Parker since 2003, and her bond to the community feels even stronger since COVID-19 hit.
Tran and her husband run Indochine Cuisine, a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant that attracts loyal customers to Parker's Mainstreet.
Talking about those customers brings tears to Tran's eyes as she describes how her restaurant has thrived despite a pandemic that has forced so many other businesses to shut down.
“It's amazing. I don't know why I'm so emotional about it, but we could never survive, actually, without their support,” she said.
Staff members said they feared the restaurant wouldn't make it when COVID-19 restrictions blocked in-person dining early in the pandemic.
“It was pretty scary. At first I thought I might lose my job because a lot of people were losing their jobs in the industry,” said lead cook Brian Mehdinia.
“Miss Yume definitely knew how to pivot in such a way that kept our customers coming back,” said Danny Tran, the acting front-of-house manager. “We definitely have a lot of loyal customers ... but it's half loyal customers, half marketing.”
Yume Tran posted videos on Facebook teaching customers how to cook Indochine Cuisine's dishes at home, and the restaurant capitalized on its social media popularity to offer discounts and multi-course meal specials for takeout.
“I think the customers definitely saw that we were trying our best to help them attain some sort of a regular day-to-day life,” Danny Tran said. “You're getting a full-course meal at home from a restaurant. It was just a good experience, basically.”
“We were super busy and just grateful for everything,” Mehdinia added.
“We've never had to close. ... We didn't have to lay off anybody,” Yume Tran said.
The restaurant did cut its hours, which Yume Tran said was a step intended to protect the staff's health. But she also said that strong community support meant Indochine Cuisine could offer its employees raises. She said the restaurant provided raises every six or seven months pre-pandemic and continued doing so after COVID-19 hit.
“We want to make sure that they know we want them here, that we appreciate them working for us,” she said.
“I was one of the lucky ones that still had a job, still had hours, still had pay,” Danny Tran said. “It was nice knowing that I was being cared for.”
Yume Tran said the restaurant has long been “unconventional” for the industry by offering its established kitchen staff salaried pay rather than hourly, along with paid time off and a fixed schedule.
“I think that has paid off for us. We don't have a staff shortage,” she said.
“It's a really hard business,” she said. “For each individual employee, any chance I can get to make a little bit of difference in their life ... that's what makes the job worth it. Because it's a really hard way to make a living.”
This story is from Rocky Mountain PBS, a nonprofit public broadcaster providing community stories across Colorado over the air and online. Used by permission. For more, and to support Rocky Mountain PBS, visit rmpbs.org.