By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Eggroll Queen’s story began in a living room, grew in a food truck, and has now settled in the former Undeground Music Cafe space (1579 Hamline Ave. N.).
Along the way, local resident Mai Vang, who grew up in the Como area and now lives 10 minutes from the restaurant, has overcome her own hearing loss to become a minority, woman business owner. She runs Eggroll Queen Music Cafe with partners David and Helene Schultz.
What is it like being a person of color and woman entrepreneur?
The Eggroll Queen was starting out as a community volunteer event and evolved into a business. It was fine when I was still making egg rolls from my living room to sell them to few friends in the community. When the egg rolls start picking up, I realized I didn’t have the funding to properly operate the business. As a woman in the Hmong community, we don’t normally go out and approach potential investors for money. Besides, almost every family in the Hmong community knows how to make egg rolls.
Finding the proper financial to start a business was the biggest hurdle because I didn’t have anything to begin with and with my disability, my family income was also cut in half. I slowly build the business up from my living room to a food trailer built by my brother Cherxa, funded by families, friends, and the community. When my food trailer was caught on fire, I couldn’t afford another one. I was so fortunate that the community was pouring in with donations enough to get a food truck and get me back on the street again.
On the positive side, being a woman of color, it gives me the opportunity to introduce my food to other larger community because most of them have never had a good egg roll or don’t know how egg rolls should really taste like. They only get the down-graded version from other restaurants.
What challenges have you overcome?
Back in late 2013, I went deaf and everything I knew how quickly came to an end. I struggled to find a solution to get my hearing back. When I finally came to accept that my hearing could be permanent, I lost a lot of hopes and the will power to do the many things I used to do.
To keep myself from focusing on the problem I faced, I started going out to the community again and do what I can to help others that may have bigger problems. I was fortunate enough to find a group of very kind-hearted St. Paul Eastsiders that would go out of their way to help others. We did few fundraisers to help few of our community members that needed help using the egg roll recipe that my family has been doing for years.
As friends and community members start pouring in to get the egg rolls, I focused less and less on my personal problem and more on how I can contribute to the community the way I used to through my egg rolls.
It’s still very hard for me to have a normal conversation with everyone especially my husband and kids, but using technology, we are doing our best to move forward as a family. I still have to take few naps throughout the day on a daily basis to clear pressures from my head and ears so I won’t be so off balance when I walk.
What’s new at the restaurant?
At the Eggroll Queen Music Café, we now have a full kitchen to prep and serve our delicious jumbo egg rolls. We are also offering our special rice bowl dish. Our goal is to make sure when families stop by for either lunch or dinner, they can get a full meal while enjoying live music from local artists. In addition, we upgraded all of our music equipment so local musicians have a good place and proper equipment to show off their talents to the community.
For years this coffee shop was a neighborhood gathering, we still want to be that. But additionally, we want to make the café at place for new, emerging, and established artists and the community. By that, we have a larger wall for artists to display their art and are rotating it. We also have a lot of musicians who play here. We also realized that there is no place in the Twin Cities for writers and poets to read or perform their works. We want to be the place for them. We also hope to be a community meeting place, both for neighbors, and for special events.
What drove the changes and grand re-opening?
The former Underground Music Café had woodfire oven pizza and few other food selections when Eggroll Queen took over the business. I was so excited and was hoping to open our line of egg rolls within a month or two, but we learned very quickly that a lot of things in the café need to be brought up to code in order for us to sell our egg rolls and other food there. It took us most of 2019 to get everything to work and now we are ready to serve the community.
How is the Twin Cities food scene evolving and where do you fit into that?
Personally, I feel that our Twin Cities food scene has changed a lot due to our very diverse communities. A few decades ago, when you are thinking about going to a restaurant, chain restaurants often come to mind and everyone settled for pretty much the same choice of food. Today, our community is filled with so many different communities, foods, cultures, etc. Eggroll Queen is among one of them; however, our goals has always been focusing on the quality and how we can offer egg rolls to our community with the very same recipe that we would do at home. We want to make sure every bite is good to the last one.
Our restaurant is a very nice, cute place where family can come out for a good lunch or dinner and yet still feel at home. Parents can read few books to the kids or playing small board games with their kids to strengthen their bonds. People can stop by for locally brewed coffee, beer or a nice glass of wine and enjoy live music from our local artists.
In the morning, you will see friends stop by for a quick meet up, engineer and police officers starting of their day with a cup of latte, coffee and laughters with friends. Ladies would round up their friends and come to share ideas, doing needle work, chatting and laughing together early in the morning.
Our employees know their customers and know what they want as customers enter the door. With all of those fun and quality time together, kids and adults alike can have one or few scoops of ice cream before heading out.
What specials do you offer that are not-to-be-missed by local residents?
Our lunch special, the Queen Meal, is definitely something local residents should get. The meal includes chicken or vegetable fried rice, one jumbo egg roll and a drink - soda, juice, or coffee.
I like to invite everyone to come and try our delicious food. Your support of getting three egg rolls and a rice bowl will help provide jobs for few employees, keep the café open for the community, musicians, and artists. See you soon.
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