Exciting news! Chews and News is launching a podcast series. Whether it’s a chef’s background or a farmer’s perspective, every plate has a story and I can’t wait to share as many as possible. I especially want to thank Wayne Lam at 83 Vietnamese for graciously agreeing to be my first guest on the podcast, which originally aired on WCIA 3 News on September 16, 2019.
At Urbana’s Broadway Food Hall, people have a wide variety of cuisines to choose from, including sandwiches, eggs, poke bowls and pho.
“It really represents the country of Vietnam,” Wayne Lam explains. “And with that being said, I felt that just this one dish is something that I really felt I could build this whole restaurant around.”
And that’s exactly what he did, opening 83 Vietnamese at the Broadway Food Hall in May, giving people a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
The restaurant’s name is a nod to Lam and his family’s history.
“The name 83 Vietnamese comes from my birth year, 83,” Lam says. “The three – I don’t know if you realize that but it’s also the shape of Vietnam. We’re able to shape that into a logo. Eight also meaning infinite, infinity, life and something that just shows good fortune within Chinese and Vietnamese culture.”
In 1983, Lam became the first member of his family to be born in the United States.
“When you talk about coming to the United States with nothing but the clothes on their backs, that was it,” Lam says. “They literally came with nothing but the set of clothes that they escaped from South Vietnam with from North Vietnam. They were in refugee camps for months until they finally got in the United States. They got here with nothing.”
His family opened a Chinese restaurant in St. Louis, before moving to Champaign and opening one here.
“We did it, and we did it great,” Lam recalls. “Put our heart into it still, no matter what, every ingredient fresh. Everything cut by hand, no packaged anything.”
Wayne ventured away from food to phones, starting a recycling and repair business.
“It just all evolved and we had to evolve with the evolution of where phones were going,” Lam says. “That’s what I loved so much at the time was inventing myself. I could really be creative.”
But eventually, Lam realized it was time to reinvent himself again and return to food.
“From there, it’s not dealing with other people’s problems anymore,” he says. “It’s resolving people’s problems by – they come in happy to my restaurant rather than walk into my cell phone business just mad.”
Now, he and his mom are giving Champaign-Urbana a chance to taste authentic Vietnamese food, and the recipes that he considers to be comfort food.
“I actually probably didn’t understand the term comfort food and what it meant until five or six years ago,” Lam admits. “When people said comfort food, I always thought it meant mashed potatoes and gravy. I didn’t know comfort food was literally just a food that comforts you. So, Chinese can have comfort food. Indian can have comfort food.”
Lam brought out a pork belly stew as a temporary special.
“That just reminds me of the crappiest day of school, walking home from the bus stop in the rain or snow, having just a down day, coming home and smelling it.”
Lam says it’s been a special treat seeing so many cultures’ comfort foods being shared with people right here in Central Illinois.
“There’s so much creativity throughout the town now and I’m happy,” he says. “I moved home. I moved home.”
Interested in checking out 83 Vietnamese? The restaurant hours are:
Monday – Wednesday: 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Thursday – Friday: 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.