NEW HYDE PARK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Billy Dang was driving a yellow cab in New York City when he got a call from his sister Theresa. She suggested they open a business together, specifically a shop for banh mi, the iconic sandwich of their native Vietnam.
Without any restaurant experience or formal training, Billy agreed.READ MORE: Source of Knowledge: A Newark Bookstore Honors African Ancestry
“Life is all about taking chances,” he said.
Billy was a child when his family was forced to flee their home in Hanoi at the end of the Vietnam War. Their possessions having been confiscated by the North Vietnamese, they counted themselves among the almost 800,000 refugees to make the dangerous journey between 1975 and 1995. Two boats and a plane got them to New York, where three generations of family moved into one small Chinatown apartment.
Ultimately, Billy relocated to Brooklyn with his parents and siblings. He remained for four decades, working in a variety of trades before making a career of the banh mi.
A sliced baguette filled with any of a variety of meats and vegetables, the sandwich has origins in the French colonization of Vietnam in the late 19th century.
Billy and Theresa’s version became a hit when they opened Nicky’s on the Lower East Side in 2004, often selling out by the afternoon.
Over a decade, multiple locations, and countless sandwiches later, Nicky’s closed, and the suburbs of Long Island called to Billy. A single dad, he wanted a quiet place to care for his parents and son.READ MORE: Ben 'Moody' Harney Helms NYC's Only Oyster Cart
It is in New Hyde Park with two new business partners that he’s built his latest venture, Ha Long Bay Vietnamese Sandwiches, named for a place special to him.
“I love it over there. It’s so beautiful, so relaxing,” he said. “I said, ‘You know what? Let me use the name Ha Long Bay.’”
Billy prepares old favorites from his Nicky’s plus a few new inventions, like the Long Bay Special. It combines smoked ham, pork roll, and pork liver pâté. It’s toasted until golden and crispy before the addition of fresh cilantro, optional sliced jalapeño, and shredded carrots marinated in salt, sugar, and vinegar.
Also available are roasted duck and sardine options. Vegetarian-friendly offerings include tofu and portobello. Soups like pho and drinks like bubble tea round out the menu.
Positive feedback from customers has made Billy proud. Even more meaningful to him is seeing newcomers become regulars.
“You know, there’s thousands of Vietnamese sandwich shops out there, and everybody has a different taste,” he said. “Ten customers can walk in here, and one of them will walk out disappointed. But as a business-owner—and there’s a lot of competition out there—you just do your best.”
Ha Long Bay Vietnamese Sandwiches
1200 Jericho Turnpike
New Hyde Park, NY 11040
What’s something few people know about but everybody should? Whatever it is, Elle McLogan is tracking it down on The Dig. Join her hunt for treasures hidden across our area. Follow Elle on Twitter and Instagram.