For every small business, there’s a story about the owner’s hopes and dreams.
From the minute you enter the door of Burnsville’s Nha Sang Asian Cuisine, located in a strip mall near the corner of Burnsville Parkway and Nicollet Avenue, you can expect to be treated as a family member. As a customer, you will be part of an immigrant’s success story.
In an interview with B-ville News, owner Geng De Nha Sang came to the U.S. as a refugee from Tibet 10 years ago. His birth country has been under siege from the Chinese since the 1950s, with many people being exiled. Nha Sang was a businessman there, but was forced out, leaving his wife, son and his two daughters behind. After about four months in California, at the urging of his friend he came to Minnesota. (As a side note, Minnesota has the second largest Tibetan population in the U.S.)
His new life in the U.S. also meant a new career, and with training and time, he became a chef at the popular, but now closed Azia Restaurant and Bar on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis.
In 2008, Geng De, then a U.S. citizen, was financially able to relocate his family. But he found he was working so many hours, that he had little time to spend with them, and his wife was having a hard time finding work because she spoke no English. The closing of Azia presented him with the opportunity to start his own business.
The restaurant, Nha Sang Asian Cuisine, has been open in Burnsville for two years. With his experience at Azia, Geng De feels he turned the quality up a notch or two. Call it an Asian-infused menu – along with traditional Tibetan dishes, Nha Sang offers Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Japanese. He’s learned a lot about the Minnesota palate – which he said tends toward “sweet and spicy.” His Tibetan Hot and Spicy Chicken is a customer favorite.
The business is truly a family affair – his son is manager-host, his wife works in the kitchen and often his two teen-aged daughters can be found doing homework at a corner table.
“Our restaurant carries our family name,” said 21-year-old Sheuphen Zompo, who helps his parents between his time at Normandale Community College and his involvement with the Tibetan American Foundation Center in St. Paul. A family surname carries with it a strong sense of responsibility, Sheuphen said. It is a person’s connection to their past. To dishonor the name is a great disgrace.
His father is in charge of the meal from start to finish – an executive chef approach. As his son translated, Geng De said he’s fussy about the ingredients he uses – demanding freshness, and he takes no shortcuts in preparation. At the end of your meal, you most likely will receive a visit at your table from him. “His greatest compliment is to see that you liked it,” Sheuphen said. “He appreciates his customers, and they give him the incentive to do better.”
Geng De may be physically far from Tibet, but his birth country is never long from his thoughts “He is happy to be here with his family, and feels grateful for his accomplishments; but he is a Tibetan, and the continued strife there is troublesome. He worries for his mother and siblings who are there,” Sheuphen said.
As I have stated before in other posts, I am know food critic – but when the interview was over, the Nha Sang family asked me to stay so they could serve me a Tibetan Momo – a steamed dumpling filled with lean minced beef. I knew I would be back for more – it wasn’t only that it tasted good, but when Sheuphen said this is a delicacy that many Tibetan families serve, I was so honored.
One last note, Geng De especially wants to thank the residents of Burnsville for their support. “You are a huge part of Nha Sang’s success,” he said.