For many people, COVID-19 meant taking a step back and slowing things down.
For Billy Dang, it was the time to expand his business and open his second Ha Long Bay, a Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich shop, in Great Neck this winter, months after his original spot in New Hyde Park opened its doors last January.
“My friends kept telling me maybe now is not the time to open up another one,” said Dang, 50, of New Hyde Park. “It’s just another day at work.”
Ha Long Bay isn’t Dang’s first culinary venture. After working with his father growing up in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, he got a call from his sister when driving for Yellow Cab about an open storefront on the Lower East Side.
“After we got a feel for the area, we knew it was perfect,” Dang said.
In 2004, Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches opened, which he said was one of the first Vietnamese restaurants to thrive outside of Asian communities in the city. Throughout his 10-year lease in the first location, he grew a following while adding two shops under the same name in different parts of Manhattan.
Nicky’s no longer exists, but Dang wanted to create the same spirit of providing the community with quality, well-priced food at his two Ha Long Bay locations.
“Ha Long Bay is a beautiful island, just like the one we live on,” Dang said. “I thought it was a fitting name to connect two amazing places.”
The Vietnamese island was one of the spots Dang went to 14 years ago when he visited his native land decades after he and his family were forced to leave their home in Hanoi following the Vietnam War. From 1975 to 1995, nearly 800,000 refugees came to the United States. Dang and his family in the late 1970s took two boats and a plane to reach New York before settling into a Chinatown apartment.
Between his two locations, Dang said the newest one on Middle Neck Road in Great Neck has more of a lounge feel and has a slightly bigger staff compared with the takeout-focused New Hyde Park location on Jericho Turnpike. Dang said he is in both locations every day, restocking produce he picks up each morning.
By the end of 2022, Dang is aiming for three additional locations on Long Island after seeing the tremendous community support thus far. Following his successes, even in the middle of the pandemic, Dang said he is confident more communities will embrace his vision and welcome the next Ha Long Bay.
“It was definitely a gamble this year opening up the two locations,” Dang said last month. “But I hit blackjack.”