Vivacious, witty, and easy on the eyes. Such is the appeal of Justina Duong, 31, owner of Cyclo, Chandler's kudos-laden Vietnamese eatery, a culinary lodestone for Valley foodies. You can add smart to her list of attributes. Duong attended USC on scholarship, acquiring a degree in pharmacy. But after a couple of years doling out the meds, she decided it wasn't for her. Born in Vietnam and raised in Pasadena, California, she transplanted to Arizona to help out a sibling, originally. She fell in love -- with the restaurant biz. Lucky us.
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A gamble that paid off: I never wanted to be in the restaurant business. Then six years ago, my sister's daughter passed away. My sister has a restaurant in Tempe called Khai Hoan, near McClintock and Apache. I came to Arizona, and told her, "Why don't you take a vacation and I'll take care of things for a few months." She agreed, and I fell in love with the business. I thought, I want to open another one. Totally different concept. That was three years ago. At first I wanted to be in Old Town Scottsdale, or downtown Phoenix, but then the guy who owned this space, he didn't want to have a business anymore. He was a friend of my brother's. I told my brother, "Let's just take it." So we opened it, and it took off.
The best medicine? Food. I'd rather mix food than mix medicine. I believe in natural healing. If people take care of themselves and eat healthy, they don't need to take any medication. Unless it's genetic, and they're born with it. But a normal person, they can eat healthy and be healthy.
A born salesperson: My mom was a baker back in Vietnam. She made French baguettes. You know, because of the French influence. They sold them wholesale. We children would take the leftovers to market, sell them, then come home to have breakfast before school starts. When I was 4, I had a little bucket of baguettes that I would take to market. My mom says I was the first to come home after selling everything. She'd say, "Since you were 4 years old, I knew you were good with people."
The boss is always right: This couple in their 50s came in here to eat. They asked my name, and said, "Justina, we just love the way you work. You take care of the place like it's yours." So I teased them, "You know, I have no choice. My boss knows a lot of people in the restaurant business in town. I really can't get another job." They completely believed me! They left me a note with a $140 tip. It said, "We own a chichi restaurant in Newport Beach, and we'd love to have your personality in our restaurant. We can double your salary." I felt like a jerk. So I wrote them a thank you card that said, "Next time you're in town, I have a confession to make."