La V Fusion
This post is dedicated to Chi Thuy, with love. And to her mother, who passed away this past August. The staff affectionately called her Mom, and Mom always set aside a HUGE bowl of bone marrow for me every time a new pot of Pho was done cooking.
La V Fusion was my very first job in hospitality. How I came to work there was pure spontaneity. I have known the owner, Thuy Le, since I was maybe 12 years old, practically a baby. My sisters and cousins and I would visit her cafe, Thuy Cafe, to get our boba fix. Thuy Cafe offers 60 flavors of smoothies and milk teas (as does La V)! The fun part is the boba, a chewy tapioca made from cassava root. Thuy Cafe had a door that lead all the way to the back to a small corner with a service window. Inside that window was simply a cash register and stacks of boba powder and ingredients of the different banh mi sandwiches she offered. It was just Thuy and her mother working side by side in what my memory recalls as no more than a 5×7 ft space, but our minds have a tendency to exaggerate. As business grew, I remember more furniture being added in, a wall being knocked down and eventually she ended up just moving to a bigger storefront. On Sundays, my mother would come home with a bag full of Vietnamese sandwiches and it was our “grab-n-go” all week long.
In 2012, Thuy opened up La V Fusion- a full working restaurant packed with different bowls of pho, noodle soups…
[Pictured is the Da Nang noodle soup.]
…vermicelli bowls, rice and salad dishes, banh mi sandwiches…
[The Shrimp Banh Mi Opla– that means with an egg!]
[The traditional Banh Mi Dac Biet- pate, house made butter, pickled radishes, deli pork slices.]
[True love looks like this.]
…beer, sake, wine and prosecco…
… and calamari with sweet chili sauce.
[Hmm… which is the “choiciest” piece?]
[We got a WINNER!!]
I was SO proud of this woman I had known since childhood. I had to stop by and give my love. I was a year out of college, fresh out of a miserable breakup, and dying for something new. I asked if she had any openings. Next thing I know, I get a text that night asking me to come in the next morning. I would stay for a year and a half. Thuy, who also has a BEASTLY appetite, always joked that my insatiable stomach paid her lease. Imagine having access to delicious Vietnamese food 5 days a week with an EMPLOYEE DISCOUNT. HEAVEN. I would work 12 hours shifts racking up $50 tabs (sometimes AFTER discount) and I was the happiest person there ever was. One of my FAVORITE dishes was and still is the Da Nang soup. A bit fishy for some, but perfect for most. Imagine a soup with shrimp AND pork belly, half a boiled egg, greens, and flat egg noodles. Just see for yourself! Look at the lime juice running down my perfectly executed manicure. Just kidding, they’re nail adhesives. Whenever Thuy was preparing my bowl, she’d always throw in a little bit of extra meat for me.
This post isn’t so much about the wonderful restaurant that is La V as it is an ode to Thuy. Everything that I have learned about hospitality culture started with working at her establishment. La V is where I started to appreciate wine. Where I started to learn that after a double, all there is left to do is drink, and drinking we will do. Downtown St. Petersburg is an industry heaven. I can easily recall working a 10-10, walking down Central Avenue and up and around to bar hop and dance and grab drunk pizza, only to crawl into bed at 5am and be up in time for another 10-10. With no hangover. Oh, to be young!
La V started the network of friends that I still have today that spreads all the way to NYC. Because of this job, I was blessed with the opportunity to know and love the late designer Kimberly Hendrix. I got to meet and become great friends with Mark from the band Periphery. I can’t eat or drink anywhere in Tampa or DTSP without seeing a friend to hug and say ‘Hello.’ I’m so grateful. This job gave me the experience and connections to people I needed to know to get the jobs I had in both Florida and New York. Everything leads to something, and I probably would have never met the love of my life if it didn’t start here [Hi, Nolan!!!].
I have been fortunate in my life to have firsthand examples of strong, independent, entrepreneurial women. Among them are my mother, my boss from Anise, Xuan, Laura Hunt of SHE and Thuy. Thuy is a woman of petite stature, gorgeous and always dressed impeccably head to toe.
You can’t miss her. She always has a smile on her face and remembers everyone’s names. I learned how to give a proper firm handshake by watching her. I give her a little nod every time someone comments on my strong handshakes. Once, I heard a Suit tell her she had a surprisingly firm grip and without missing a beat, Thuy delivered a swift “It’s so you know who’s in control.” HELLO!!! #WomanCrush much???!
The time I spent at La V coincided with a period in my life where I was building myself back up, getting rid of old habits and establishing boundaries as a person who had self respect and a newfound intolerance of all things bullshit. Hospitality is the best job to have to practice patience, stand your ground, and know when to pick your battles. You learn how to read people and tell them how ridiculous their demands are…in your mind. You still get them what they want. All with a smile on your face. Thuy is a role model in more ways than one. As a mother, she has 3 successful businesses and still manages to pay most of her attention to her son, a 6 year old whose fashion game is better than yours will ever be. She was my boss and is my friend. Ages ago, when heartache got a little too overbearing, she didn’t hestitate to tell me to take time off. “It takes three days to get over something like this. After that, go dress sexy and go to the beach or something. When you’re ready to come back, let me know.” Who says that? Certainly, not your boss. Not usually. This has already become a longer post than I intended. Do yourself a favor, reward yourself for reading all of this. Go to La V, order a huge bowl of Pho and a bottle of Saigon beer. Or better yet, walk down the street to Thuy’s latest venture, Nouvelle Beauty Bar, a nail and hair salon. Get a mani/pedi while you order food from her restaurant. This woman has thought of everything.
La V Fusion – Now OPEN on Fridays and Saturdays til 4 AM!!!!!
441 Central Ave
Photography: Matthew Holler
Stylist: Janelle LaFond- JMI Styling