Meet Kim Phan- owner of Kingfisher- San Diego's Elevated Vietnamese French Restaurant
I used to write my menu for a future Vietnamese restaurant back in high school days, but the passion for opening a restaurant all started when my sister and I worked at our parents’ food togo restaurant. Our parents had a Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant in El Cajon city back in the early 2000s. Seeing them working so hard everyday and they’re not getting any younger, we wanted to do something different so they could retire. My family landed in Houston, Texas before we relocated to San Diego. We were introduced to seafood boils at family gatherings in Houston. My sister and I have this major obsession for seafood. We used to eat 15 pounds of crawfish together and would be able to do it again the next day. So we thought why don’t we open a Southern influenced seafood restaurant in San Diego. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, and I would drive all around San Diego to look for a location. The 3 of us gave all that we have, emptied our pockets and with the financial support of my parents, we opened our first Crab Hut restaurant in Kearny Mesa.
Does everyone in your family enjoy cooking? Is everyone involved in the business?
Oh yes, our whole family loves to cook! My sister likes to explore new techniques. She is the chef in the family during holiday seasons. I enjoy making traditional Vietnamese food. I find making broth such as pho or hu tieu is very therapeutic. Our Dad loves to cook for family gatherings. Our Mom’s food is always beautiful and healthy. Though my husband can’t really cook, he loves making poke for the family.
Together with my sister and my husband, we opened Crab Hut in 2007. Now we have a new addition to our team, my brother-in-law is also working in our family business for both Crab Hut and Kingfisher.
Did you always work in the restaurant industry? If not, what other careers have you had?
I used to work at a couple doctors’ offices before working for our parents’ restaurant. But those jobs were more for learning new things and to help with college expenses. Growing up in Vietnam, I have always dreamt of being a literature teacher. I love our Vietnamese culture and language. I love it so much that moving to the States was a big shock for me. I couldn’t relate to the new language and wasn’t able to talk to anyone in two years. I was lost and didn’t have a career goal in mind. I went to school for computer science like many of my friends graduated in 2000. I’m so glad I’ve found myself in the restaurant industry. Though it is a lot of hard work and everyday is a new challenge, I love what I’m doing and I’m thankful to be able to wake up everyday and do what I love.
What was your goal in opening Kingfisher?
As mentioned above, I love Vietnamese literature and culture. A big part of our culture revolves around food. The region that I’m from, we have a river in front of our house. I remember our food was fresh, simple, but also full of flavors. I want to share that with our guests. It was a heartfelt moment for me, when one of my favorite chefs in San Diego said eating at Kingfisher is like going through memories through food. Though we're not exactly eating scallops in our hometown, our diver scallop dish has the flavor and ingredients we’d use for our almost everyday meal, sweet and sour snakehead soup. I want to showcase another side of Vietnamese food to our guests, family and friends.
Did you face any obstacles in the process of opening the restaurant?
We faced so many challenges with this project. Amazingly, now that I’m thinking about this question, I don’t know why we didn’t give up. After we signed our lease and waited a year for our permits, the pandemic started. We have had many challenges before, but none like this pandemic. We just had to put everything on hold and make sure our team members and our Crab Hut restaurants stay afloat before moving forward with Kingfisher.
What is your largest obstacle now?
My largest obstacle now is how to boost up that level of optimism that we used to have before the pandemic. We are so fortunate to have a talented team behind each of our restaurants. But the pandemic really takes away that fun culture in our industry. The pandemic, it changes our way of life. I see so many talented people out there, but they’re losing that sparkle for their passion and for the industry. Also how to take care of our team with the rising costs of everything. Unfortunately, it will pass down to the consumer. Those are some of the challenges not just for me, but many of my friends in the industry.
What is the hardest thing about owning a restaurant?
The hardest thing about owning a restaurant like many other fields is how to be a good leader. On top of that, as a mom, I don’t always have the time for my kids like I would like to. How to balance my time between work and family is still a challenge everyday.
If there is one thing you would do differently, what would it be?
Nothing I can think of at the moment. I love all the good and bad times we had. I’m thankful for all the mistakes that I made, for the valuable lessons that I learned.
What advice would you have for someone looking to start their own business?
You have to believe in your product, love what you do and always keep a healthy cash flow.
What’s next for Kingfisher? Any plan to expand or open additional restaurants?
As of right now, we don’t have any plans to expand yet. Everyday, we are looking for room to improve. We also need a break for family time and inspiration before going to another project.
Thank you Kim for sharing your story! I love your candidness and the resilience that you and your family have to bring the best of Vietnamese food to San Diego. I know it's a labor of love!
Follow them on instagram to specials and updates!: Kingfisher
Also join me on my journey as well on Instagram: Wynn's Kitchen
Here are a few of my favorite dishes that I had at the restaurant! Those are the scallops she referred to. Okay...Now I'm super hungry!