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One nurse’s passions: He’s dedicated to patients in the recovery room and customers at his restaurant

Upstate nurse Thanh Nguyen at the Saigon Vietnamese Kitchen, his restaurant outside Liverpool. (photo by Chuck Wainwright) Upstate nurse Thanh Nguyen at the Saigon Vietnamese Kitchen, his restaurant outside Liverpool. (photos by Chuck Wainwright)


You can find him caring for patients as they wake up after surgery. You can also find him supervising a Vietnamese restaurant near Liverpool.

Thanh Nguyen (pronounced tonn wenn), says he loves working as a nurse in Upstate University Hospital’s post-anesthesia care unit. Also known as the PACU or recovery room, it’s where patients wake up after surgery. Now 32, he has lived in Syracuse since he was 3. He’s been a nurse at Upstate for the past five years.

Nguyen keeps busy. When he is not working as a nurse, he can usually be found at the Saigon Vietnamese Kitchen on Route 57 in Liverpool. It’s a business he helped to launch this spring.

(Below: Nguyen shares a Vietnamese recipe.) 

A friend of Nguyen’s, Daniel Nguyen, also of Vietnamese background but no relation to Thanh, was a cook at another local Vietnamese eatery and needed a business partner to start a new place. “Daniel wanted to create his own restaurant with his own menu and his own creations,” Thanh Nguyen said. “He covers the kitchen, and I’m basically the managing partner and oversee staff, the financial details, and making sure customers are happy and everything is correct.”

Thanh Nguyen had taken a few business classes and was interested in going into business himself before he switched to nursing. He leaves the cooking to his business partner, who he notes trained under the “Iron Chef” of Vietnam.

“There are not too many Vietnamese restaurants in the area,” he said. “And where we are in Liverpool, there is no Vietnamese restaurant for miles.” He describes Saigon Vietnamese Kitchen as “a nice family casual place, with color-changing lights and Vietnamese music rotating with American music” — and ample parking.

He points out that his restaurant is popular with vegans, who do not eat meat or dairy products. “We also have a special menu just for them.”

What is Thanh Nguyen’s favorite menu item? “Pho, a dish of beef broth that cooks for more than 16 hours, with meat, a ton of vegetables, bean sprouts, rice noodles,” he describes.

“I find myself eating it all the time.”

Is it kid-friendly?

Can you take children to the Saigon Vietnamese Restaurant?

The short answer is: Yes.

While there is no specific kids’ menu, there is a wide selection of dishes offering vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, salads, rice and noodles to choose from.

“Children usually stick to rice plates such as the fried rice dishes

or the drunken noodle dishes,” notes owner Thanh Nguyen. “We can also customize dishes per request for small children,” he adds.

Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls

Recipe: Vietnamese Fresh Spring Rolls

Thanh Nguyen recommends this recipe for spring rolls, which he says are easy to prepare and similar to what is served at the Saigon Vietnamese Kitchen restaurant.


2 ounces rice vermicelli

8 rice paper wrappers (8.5 inches in diameter, see note)

8 large cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut in half

1  1/3 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 leaves lettuce, chopped

4 teaspoons fish sauce (see note)

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons white sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic chili sauce (see note)

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce (see note)

1 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts


  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Boil rice vermicelli 3 to 5 minutes or until al dente, then drain
  2. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the center, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chili sauce.
  4. In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.
  5. Serve rolled spring rolls with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.

NOTE: Fish sauce, hoisin sauce, garlic chili sauce and rice paper wrappers can be found in the Asian or international section of many grocery stores or in specialty stores. The sauces might also be found alongside other bottled barbecue or meat sauces.

Prep time: 45 minutes. Cooking time: 5 minutes. Ready in: 50 minutes.

Source: allrecipes.com

This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Click herefor the full online version of the magazine.