Never Underestimate the Power of a Dream

Best Mongolian Restaurant | Statewide Winner and Best of Treasure Valley

Duy TranThe year is 2009. A young man from Vietnam finds himself—in seeking work anywhere he can get it in Boise—washing dishes and scrubbing floors and toilets in #1 Mongolian BBQ.

He’s overqualified to do any of this work—a landscape photographer, webmaster, and graphic designer by training, he left a business that he owned in Vietnam to come to the United States and strive for a dream he saw but had no road map to follow.
No map? No problem.

We love a good Cinderella story around here. It’s the American dream distilled into its most basic components—a person not of noble or elite birth rises to the top through hard work, good values, and their own ingenuity.

Today we look at the result of those values: a beautiful location rich in elegance and exquisite details. This a restaurant visit that’s about experience and sensory fulfillment as much as anything else. To look at what this top restaurant is today, well, it’s difficult to believe the humble roots from which it grew. For this inspirational story and its outcome, we have the dedication of Duy Tran to thank.

From Dream to Reality

Back in 2009, #1 Mongolian BBQ was the restaurant that took Duy in when he came to Idaho on a wing and prayer. He had no concept then of what he would do; he simply never gave up. As a dishwasher and eventual chef at the restaurant, he did the work he had to do. He didn’t love it. Often he found himself questioning what he was doing and the wisdom of his choices. His wife and child were still back in Vietnam, waiting to join him in the United States. He sent what he earned back home and visited as often as he could.

From his position in the kitchen and as one of the grunt employees in #1 Mongolian BBQ, Duy observed and knew why the place wasn’t doing as well as it could be. When the owner at the time announced that the restaurant would have to close, an idea hatched. Duy had very little money and very little credit. He knew what he had to do, he just had to find the means to do it.

Duy borrowed money from friends and family, he obtained very small bank loans, and he bought the restaurant. People questioned his wisdom, but he plowed ahead, believing in himself. “I trusted myself. I poured myself into it. And I did everything on my own. I rebuilt,” Duy says.

From the time he became the owner of #1 Mongolian BBQ, Duy spent every day from the end of 2015 to the end of 2016 fixing the restaurant up. He needed to make it work.

We know that when a restaurant struggles, it’s a top-down problem. Duy has always made his goals and desires for his restaurant a team effort, sharing his vision with his team. He believes that they can and will work together to achieve that. Right away he created both short-term and long-term goals.
It worked: at the end of 2016, his restaurant started to get better reviews (one area that had contributed to the demise of #1 Mongolian BBQ’s first incarnation).

Changing Tide#1 Mongolian BBQ Team

It was a trickle at first.Then, after 2016, Duy challenged his team again with a goal that seemed obtainable but was still shooting for the moon: get #1 Mongolian into the top ten for Boise. As Duy demonstrates, a challenge is just what he needs to succeed. It was a long shot, wasn’t it?

Well, we can’t argue with these results: at the end of 2017 they were in the top seven for best barbecue joints in Idaho. From 2018 to now, they have ranked within the top three best barbecue joints in Boise.

Duy is careful to point out the honor he places on winning Idaho’s Best for 2022. He says this is because it represents the admiration and respect of his customers.

This makes sense: his efforts and those of his family shine through, and customers see it! Everyone knows the satisfaction of being seen and understood. Duy is honored by this.

We’re honored as well, Duy!

Same Work, Different Mindset

As the owner of #1 Mongolian BBQ, Duy does everything, from pinch-hitting in the kitchen to attending to guests, and still sometimes cleaning up and doing the dishes. Once upon a time he did that stuff because it was the only thing he could do, back when he first came to Boise.

But now, he finds joy in it because the restaurant is his—a dream come true, one that Duy shares with his family, his friends, and his guests.

#1 Mongolian BBQ deserves its name. The honor, Duy, is all ours.