ORLANDO, Fla. – Sean “Sonny” Nguyen spent a lot of his childhood inside his family’s restaurants.
“I was brought to the restaurants with my parents, just out of like, you know, they needed to continue watching me,” he said. “So I was always in the back room. My aunts and uncles also owned restaurants, primarily Chinese buffets, and there would always be a back room where all the kids and cousins would be hanging out.”
Nguyen — who owns Domu, along with several other restaurants — said he always had a love of cooking, but his parents actively discouraged him from working in restaurants.
“Honestly, they hated it,” he said. “They were like, ‘You got to be a doctor, you got to be a pharmacist, you got to be a lawyer, you got to have a high paying salary. I understood where they were coming from. My parents came over in the ‘70s, on a boat, by chance and floated to the Philippines and were saved and brought over to America. So they were during that wartime. Communists took over (Vietnam). It was really tough for them and so I think they just wanted a better life and I understand that part.”
Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:
Nguyen would work for the Bento Group from 2007 to 2016 when he first opened Domu at Orlando’s East End Market.
“I was opening the restaurants for (Bento) around the state and so I understood the project management side, the construction side, food costs, and all that — running the business side as well. So that’s super important, not just to know how to cook, but also how to run a business,” he said.
Nguyen describes Domu as a “neighborhood ramen shop.”
“You’re going to walk in and you’re going to hear hip-hop music on. It’s non-traditional,” he said.
He added that Domu has a lot of rules set for itself, such as no reservations and no take-out.
It’s because we want to be able to manage the room, but we’re looking at it as a standpoint of being able to take care of the customers and not overwhelming ourselves and making sure the team can keep up,” he said.
Domu has proven successful. The restaurant has expanded to three locations and was recently recognized by Michelin with a Bib Gourmand award, which honors high-quality food at reasonable prices.
Beyond Domu’s success, Nguyen has also opened two new concepts in Orlando’s Mills 50 neighborhood — Tori Tori, a cocktail bar serving Japanese-style bar snacks, and Edoboy, a standing sushi bar.
On the latest episode of Florida Foodie, Nguyen talks about balancing multiple restaurants with his family life. He also shares what it was like keeping his businesses alive during the pandemic and how it felt to be recognized by Michelin.
Please follow our Florida Foodie hosts on social media. You can find Candace Campos on Twitter and Facebook. Lisa Bell is also on Facebook and Twitter and you can check out her children’s book, “Norman the Watchful Gnome.”
Florida Foodie is a biweekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download your favorite podcasts. You can also watch Florida Foodie anytime on News 6+.