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A Taste of Heritage: Crafting Connection Through Cuisine

Season 2: Episode 34


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Located in a strip mall in a Minnesota suburb, MT Noodles has become a local favorite. Justin and the team at MT Noodles integrate their Vietnamese heritage into everything they do, making sure that all customers can find homemade dishes that they will enjoy, regardless of whether or not they’ve tried Vietnamese dishes before. Hear how the staff maintains their founding mission of serving fresh and authentic cuisine while reviewer Robby W. shares what stood out for him.

On the Yelp Blog: Discover the four-step process MT Noodles uses to perpetuate the cycle of customer service and feedback.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. On Behind the Review I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions.

This week, we are excited to feature MT Noodles, a Vietnamese restaurant that integrates family and tradition into their customer service.  Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.

ROBBY: Hi, I’m Robby W., I’m a Yelper from the Twin Cities, and I actually found MT Noodles from an Instagram video. I was just scrolling one day on my phone, looking through the Explore page. Wasn’t even anybody I followed. And I just love to click through food and look at food that tastes really good and usually helps me find my next spot.

And I found this random food influencer who posted this video saying they found this sort of suburban Vietnamese restaurant with the best Vietnamese food they had ever had in the state.   So I was like, I have to go here and I convinced all my friends to go one day.

EMILY: MT Noodles opened in 2014 in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota – just outside the Twin Cities. And is known for its authentic flavors and fresh ingredients. Let’s hear Robby’s review.

ROBBY: Wow. Wow. Wow. I cannot say enough kind and positive words about MT noodles.  I went there last night with a big group of friends after seeing a video on Instagram where the food looked so good.  We made the drive from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park specifically for this, and it was so worth the drive. I’ll be coming back for sure.

The staff were the kindest, friendliest, and most helpful I’ve ever had at any restaurant.  On the screens, they recommend newcomers to try the number 18, the number 8, and the number 16, which are essentially combination plates. Number 8 is over vermicelli noodles, and number 16 is over broken rice.

I opted for number 8, bun dak biet special noodle salad, and it was just so delicious.  It was vermicelli noodles in mixed greens, topped with an egg roll, grilled marinated pork, grilled marinated shrimp with peanuts, scallions, pickled daikon, and a lovely fish sauce on the side.  This was just so incredible.

The flavors were all very powerful, but worked together so perfectly.  I added in a bunch of the fish sauce, and it really tied everything together.  The egg rolls were crunchy and savory, the pork was tender and flavorful, and the shrimp were to die for.  Perfectly cooked,  very nicely seasoned, and marinated, and with that smoky flavor that you love to taste with grilled food.

One of my friends, on a whim, went for the number 11, Bo La Lot, Grilled Beef Rolls. And one of the staff, who actually ended up being the wife of the owner, she came over and she told my friend how she was so happy she ordered it. And then explained how it was her favorite dish, and she actually spent 10 minutes at our table showing us how to properly roll and eat the dish.

This was just so kind and so helpful because ordering new unfamiliar dishes can be very overwhelming and she just made it so easy for us.  The portion for this was massive.  I think you can maybe feed a family even with just this one dish.  They brought out a whole package of rice paper and water to stay the right temperature, and then there was a huge, huge plate with all the fillings.

There was a ground beef wrapped in betel leaf,  herbs, vermicelli, daikon, cucumbers, and peanuts.  For this dish, you roll it yourself, which can be a lot of fun with friends, or a date, or even just by yourself.  This is the dish that I plan to come and get next time. It was just unique and delicious.

They also have beautiful desserts, including house made cakes available by the slice, sticky rice, a banana flavored pastry type dish that I don’t know the name of, and some other very cool Vietnamese traditional foods. I bought some of the banana dessert to take home for my birthday, and I still can’t wait to try it. Everyone should come out and try MT Noodles. They are the kindest people ever, and they deserve success.

EMILY: What a great review! Robby shared some of the highlights of his experience at MT Noodles, including some mouth-watering recommendations. MT Noodles is known for their fresh ingredients, authentic flavors, and incredibly kind staff. I sat down with Justin, one of the co-owners of MT Noodles to hear more about how the business got its start.

JUSTIN:  My name is Justin Bui and I am one of the owners of MT Noodles.

JUSTIN: My mom’s the backbone of it all. Like, it’s her recipes, and everything. She’s been in the restaurant industry for over 20 plus years. It’s her life and it was just another way to express herself, through food.

Herself and my brother Denny, they got together and decided to open MT  Noodles about 9, almost 10 years ago now. They are the ones who really started it— same with my sister, who is his wife. They kind of carried it on all the way through right now. It started as one shop within Broadway Square, that’s the Strip Mall that we’re currently in. And because we were growing so much, they decided to take over the next shop over and kind of expand so we could have more seats. And next thing you know we’re still kicking today.

For us, it’s being able to share Vietnamese cuisine with the community. It’s really fulfilling for my mom—we focus on really bringing those authentic dishes from her homeland to your table so that anyone can try it.

EMILY: For Justin and his family, creating MT Noodles is all about sharing authentic Vietnamese cuisine with people in the Twin Cities. Having fresh ingredients, and especially the special ingredients needed to make the traditional dishes, is really important. Lots of people are trying vietnamese dishes for the first time at MT Noodles, so they have to make sure they create a flavorful and authentic experience.

JUSTIN: We have different sources and different distributors for certain vegetables because they’re very difficult to get. Actually for the number 11, the Ba La Lot, it’s a specific leaf that is very difficult to find, and we have to source from somewhere else.

It’s super important that we do these fresh because that is the cuisine. The cuisine is about fresh vegetables, right? Fresh noodles, and then perfectly cooked meat, and all of it coming together. You know, if it’s not as fresh, it’s just not gonna be a great experience.

That’s why everything’s always so handmade.  Again, that’s a lot of hands on it and try to figure it out and rolling and all that. But we really feel like fresher quality ingredients is a huge priority for us.

EMILY: Justin explains that while there are different priorities for the front of house and back of house, the team at MT Noodles makes sure to share both feedback and wins across the entire staff. This ultimately helps the team feel like all of their wins are collective, and reminds the whole team that they are all essential to the success of the business. And that they are united by the same goal of sharing authentic cuisine with all customers.

JUSTIN: You have to share the wins just as much. This review, maybe a specific server, we just like, ‘Oh my gosh, they said they had an amazing experience with you. Good job!’ Right? Like, that’s awesome. Be able to recognize that, and same for back of the house. Sometimes we get a lot of compliments on our dishes, live, right there. So I just want to make sure like, ‘hey, they love this. Keep up the good work.’

The difficulties, I guess, it’s always going to be difficult because it’s labor, right? I mean, it’s laborious. We’re really out there on our feet a lot, constantly moving, mistakes are going to happen. It’s really about always making sure we stay on the guidelines of, let’s think of a solution. Let’s move on to the next one. We’ll handle it. We’ll talk to the customer, but let’s see what we can do better then.

JUSTIN:  Our team is amazing. They work so hard, both front of house and back of house. Customers have different preferences, and you got to make sure you don’t take it too personally.

We’ve been really blessed with having a great staff that’s able to communicate to all of our customers and really understand our priorities. I think as a business owner, you really want to immediately set the boundaries and the priorities for both sides, front and back of house.

When it comes to the front of house, we really want to focus on customer service.  So, you know, when someone comes in the door, we want to be able to say hello. When they’re going to leave, we want to say goodbye. We want to just build that type of trust. That’s kind of one of our biggest priorities.

And then same with the back of house. Our priority is great quality of food. Nothing rushed. But great quality and making sure that everything is presentable and tastes amazing. And they do an amazing job on that too— if we need to remake a dish, we need to remake a dish.

EMILY: Family and tradition is evident in the way the business is run, and is often what stands out to customers when they come to visit MT Noodles. Justin explains that maintaining open lines of communication amongst the team, and with customers, is ultimately the key to such a successful business environment. This was consistent with Robby’s experience.

ROBBY: We went up to the front, we weren’t sure how it all worked, and then they were kind enough to explain how everything worked, and they helped us to a table. And we came for my birthday actually and they had no idea. I didn’t say anything. I never do.

I was with all my friends and we sat down and they clearly saw that we were a bunch of folks who did not have Vietnamese heritage, but they were so happy that we were there. And they were so excited to see what we were going to order.

You could see in their faces, they were really happy when we walked in. There’s six of us and five of us got the number eight, which is the one they recommend. And then our one friend got that number 11, the Bo La Lot, which is a much more traditional, less Americanized dish.

And then just a few minutes later, a member of the management family came out to our table and she was like, ‘Which one of you guys ordered the Bo La Lot?’  We all pointed to my friend who was with us, and the biggest smile on her face, seeing that it was somebody who had never had it before, was just really kind.

She went through and just explained how much she loved that dish, what it meant to her family,  how she ate it at important meals as a kid with her whole family gathered around the table. And how she and her family and extended family would be rolling these wraps together, and just telling us really kind stories about how much that dish meant to her and how she was so happy that somebody was willing to go out of their comfort zone and try something new.

It meant a lot to us, right? And it’s a dish that none of us had any familiarity with. So, I mean, if they had brought out those individual components separately we would have been really confused. But she was kind enough, walked us right through how to make it, stayed with us even once the dish came out and watched us roll and commented on our technique and gave us some constructive feedback, which was crucial for us because it’s not as easy as it looks. It just really meant a lot to me.

At the end I was checking out, we were all paying, I was just thanking them for such a good experience I had. That’s when I noticed the desserts and it was my birthday. So I was like, I might as well buy something to take home and eat at home with my friends.

And I love banana flavored dishes, and they had desserts I’d never seen before, and I asked her  what each one was, and she walked me through them and said that her mother in law makes everything.  They’re all fresh, house made desserts,  and so I was like, okay, I have to try one of these now, but let me try something I’ve never had before.  So she showed me these steamed banana cakes—unfortunately I don’t know the correct Vietnamese word for it —and she gave me this cream sauce to go with them.

And I said, you know ‘I never had this before. I’d like to try it.’ And she said, ‘you know what, your friends have never had it I bet either.’ And she just gave me a whole other one for free, which was just so kind. She didn’t know it was my birthday. It was just my first time there and she was just being so lovely to me.

I was super grateful and I got home and ate it and it was phenomenal. I love banana flavored dishes and it just hit all the right spots.

JUSTIN:  To see someone who’s never seen it before, be willing to try, it’s really exciting. You get to try something that is truly authentic and something you might not be able to get anywhere else.  We want to help you navigate how to eat it.

We try to tell all of our servers ‘Hey, like answer questions, educate customers’ because I think nowadays we get a lot of newer customers who maybe don’t have the background of Vietnamese culture.

So it is intimidating at first. And for us, as Vietnamese staff, how do we educate others to understand what this cuisine is about? And why we do it this way, and how to do it and how do we get more people involved. So it is actually really exciting and to be honest, people will do it better than I do myself.

No judgments at all. We’re here to just help you navigate through it.

EMILY: For Justin and the team at MT Noodles, helping customers try new dishes is not only a great way to educate customers about Vietnamese food, but also helps the team get feedback on how to improve their menu items.

JUSTIN: You can’t please everyone—it could be the most amazing dish, but some people, they might not like pork at all, right? They might not like this type of sauce and such. We’re all different, and we respect that.

And for us, it’s actually trying to figure out how many times has that same type of feedback occurred.  So, if it’s recurring, then it becomes like something we really need to look into. If you start to notice it’s like a preference, like, hey, it’s really just this person really loves this to be sweeter, then being able to acknowledge it, but then also kind of say, Hey, like, can we recommend you this dish, then?

Again, you’re just working with the customer to understand what might be better for them from your establishment.

EMILY: It’s clear how much Justin and his family care about their customers and their team. And this shows in their dedication to creating such a great experience for their customers. Robby said it made a significant impact on him – and is a great example of why locally owned businesses are so important and valuable to their communities.

ROBBY: I think it’s really important to go to small businesses that focus on cuisines that aren’t really emphasized a lot in American culture. Pho is really popular and Bahn Mi’s are really popular. But I mean, I think there’s quite a few people who probably can’t name another Vietnamese dish. And for a long time, I was one of those people. And I think it’s really important to go to these restaurants that are serving authentic cuisines and trying the dishes that are authentic to the countries they come from.

There’s a whole lot of flavor out there that we miss with the traditional American palette.  And so  it just really opens up your whole world to try so many new things.  And then I think completely on another point, is that the Twin Cities are full of really amazing restaurants.  Crazy fine dining experiences, James Beard award winning restaurants, and really famous chefs.  And I’ve been to, like, a lot of them.  You know, I’ve loved every minute of being there.  And they really give you a fine dining experience. And everybody’s really knowledgeable.

But it’s so different when it’s a family run, and this lady comes out there and tells me how much this dish meant to her family and her life growing up, and really opened my eyes to like what her childhood was like and shared that experience with me. And then, you know, gave me like extra food to try and bring home for my friends to try.

That’s something you don’t get from anything but a family owned restaurant. There’s nothing like that.

EMILY: In addition to live customer feedback, the team at MT Noodles relies on reviews and social media to help boost their presence and reputation within their community. Robby was able to experience this on both ends of his experience—not only did he find MT Noodles through social media, but he was actually approached by MT’s team online soon after posting his review, extending his interaction with MT Noodles beyond the physical location of the restaurant.

ROBBY: They replied directly to my Yelp post which is really nice, and they wished me a happy belated birthday, which was just so sweet. I mean they really made me feel good for going there, and it really helped knowing that they appreciated my review and that it meant something to them.

It just feels nice as a reviewer when you know that restaurants look through the feedback and they actively go through it. They instant-messaged me on Yelp, and they said, ‘we love this review! Would it be okay if we post it as well?’ So then I said, yeah, sure. And then I gave them my Instagram handle if they wanted to tag me.  And then they messaged me on Instagram before posting it, just making sure it’ll all look good.  And then they posted this beautiful post with my Yelp photo and a quote from my review saying how much I loved it.  And they tagged me and  they said, look how much this, this guy loves our food. You should come, come try it.

EMILY: Justin explained that social media has been really pivotal in helping to maintain connections with customers who visit them from around the country.

JUSTIN:   I think having social media and online presence and marketing, those type of things where you can connect with someone, maybe an hour a day digitally and then create that connection so that it creates that willingness to drive out there.

We always are super appreciative when folks do that. We get a lot of families that maybe come from the Dakotas, Duluth, Wisconsin, even just for the weekend to try it. And we are super grateful that people are willing to drive more than 30 minutes plus to our location. Because it’s a trip. You’re taking time out of your day. You know, you got to get all the kids in. You got to schedule it and all that. So we really, really appreciate that and we’re in an area where we do have a lot of families and Vietnamese folks too. So that helps with the proximity.

But as you start to expand, it’s really good to see that people are willing to come and drive all their way.

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