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St. Louis Character: Why Julie Truong went from high fashion to fast-casual food

“When you have a passion for something, just do it,” she said. “I was really scared, but at the same time, I knew I had a passion for this.”
Credit: SLBJ
St. Louis Character Julie Truong, owner of DD Mau.

ST. LOUIS — Growing up, Julie Truong spent her afternoons and weekends working at her family’s restaurant — Vinh Chop Suey in north city.

“I started by taking orders on the phone and then I worked the deep fryer,” she said. “As I got older, my parents trusted me with hot stuff. That’s where I did all of my cooking.”

Truong worked there until she was 18 and swore she’d never work in the restaurant industry again. The hours were too long and the work too grueling, she said.

After senior year of high school, Truong moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in fashion, which eventually led to jobs with Nordstrom in St. Louis and then with Levi’s in Chicago. Truong managed large accounts for Levi’s and traveled to San Francisco often for work. She was living the life she always dreamed of.

But during that entire time, Truong continued to cook — something that always connected her to her family back home in St. Louis. In 2017, she grew more homesick as her parents got older and her nieces and nephews got bigger, she said. And by 2018 she was working to open her own restaurant — called DD Mau, located at 11982 Dorsett Road in Maryland Heights.

“When you have a passion for something, just do it,” she said. “I was really scared, but at the same time, I knew I had a passion for this.”

You moved back to St. Louis to start your own restaurant. Why? Food has always been something important to me. When I was in Chicago, I saw fast-casual restaurants with healthier options. It's something you often see in bigger cities. There was an opportunity here in St. Louis with healthier fast-casual Vietnamese food. I decided this is what I'm going to do and I enjoy it. My menu items are a lot of vegetables — it's something healthy. I created my menu based on what I thought was missing in the restaurant industry here in Maryland Heights.

Did you use any menu items or ideas from the family restaurant? All of the marinated meats are brought down from my grandma and my aunt. Menu items are things we often eat at home — like the vermicelli and spring rolls. And the fried rice recipe is something my mom taught me. She uses the same one at their restaurant. Before I opened the restaurant, I cooked mostly American food. I ate Vietnamese food a lot — and then I read about it and watched videos on how to make some things, too. The proper technique is what I learned from my mom. 

How involved is the family in your restaurant? When we have family events, we, of course, ask each other how the businesses are doing. They care about my success and they check in a lot. And I do the same for them. But that's the extent of the involvement we have in each other's businesses. I run my restaurant as my own and they do the same with theirs. I like it that way. If I have a problem, they are the first people I reach out to ask what they think. The same goes for my sister. She is not in the restaurant industry, but she's the older sister and I look up to her. 

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