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Bushwick Native Goes from Hustling to Opening Own Vietnamese Restaurant

By Serena Dai | March 20, 2015 5:26pm | Updated on March 23, 2015 8:55am
 Lucy's Vietnamese Kitchen opened at 262 Irving Ave. in Bushwick in March 2015.
Lucy's Vietnamese Kitchen Opens on Irving Avenue
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BUSHWICK — Phuoc "Johnny" Huynh didn't expect to own his own restaurant.

Huynh's parents met as teens through infamous Vietnamese gang Born to Kill and left him when he was a baby.

He was the only Asian kid at his largely Latino school in Bushwick and reacted to bullying by getting into his own trouble — parties, gangs, fights and drugs that were rampant in the neighborhood. He didn't finish high school.

But Huynh got his act together.

At 25 years old, he's opening a Vietnamese restaurant on the same street where he grew up in Bushwick, offering jobs to old friends to prove that the neighborhood is more than just selling drugs and violence.

Lucy's Vietnamese Kitchen, which serves pho and banh mi at 262 Irving Ave., is named after his grandmother, who moved the U.S. and worked three jobs to care for him.

"It's all for her, to show 'You didn't waste time taking care of me,'" Huynh said. "I can give back now."

Huynh grew up in an apartment above a laundromat on Irving Avenue near Grove Street, with his grandmother.

Growing up, he could have decided to do well in school — "or be the popular kid," he said. He chose the scene.

"I didn’t like getting bullied, so I’d talk back and fought back," Hunyh said. "It wasn’t the safest neighborhood. Everybody gotta eat. They did it for themselves."

He didn't leave Bushwick until he was 17, getting a job at Starbucks in Manhattan.

But Huynh was ultimately fired from three different Starbucks.

After that, he decided to do something new. He searched on Craigslist for "Vietnamese restaurant" and started working in the kitchen at An Choi, a restaurant in the Lower East Side.

And after realizing that he loved to cook, he started on the path to have his own restaurant. After years working at An Choi and at events like Smorgasburg, Huynh met people who wanted to invest in a restaurant, too.

Lucy's is now in its soft opening this week, just blocks from the childhood home where Huynh still lives.

The restaurant currently serves a vegetable-broth-based pho with tofu or brisket and a banh mi sandwich with brisket. The menu, with items that will likely cost less than $15, will expand later on.

Huynh's hired some of his old high school friends, too, who said they're proud to see him have his own spot.

"I would say it’s the American dream," Huynh said.