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Phnom Penh Noodle House re-opens in Seattle thanks to resilience and community support

The beloved family restaurant in the Chinatown - International District is now serving takeout.

Next to the noisy overpass on South Jackson Street, a family restaurant is quietly serving again.

Phnom Penh Noodle House is Seattle’s only Cambodian restaurant, and it just re-opened its doors after two years away.

The restaurant is in a new location, but it has long been part of the Chinatown - International District.

It all started with Sam Ung and his wife, Cambodian refugees who escaped the Khmer Rouge genocide and arrived in Seattle in 1980. They saved their money for years to open their first noodle house in 1987, but the building was old and the roof ultimately collapsed after a snow storm.

The Ungs moved to a bigger and sturdier space in 1997, and about 10 years later their three daughters Diane, Dawn and Darlene took over operations.

Fans of the restaurant came from near and far to sample the menu, which included everything from traditional dishes to Sam's personal creation of honey, black pepper and jalapeno chicken wings.

But in 2017, a family tragedy brought everything to a halt.

Dawn's son Devin was hit by a car and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.

"It was just so much to carry on the restaurant, and to get everyone where they needed to be, so we took a break,” Diane said.

Phnom Penh closed so the family could focus on Devin. After a few months, he was able to leave the hospital. He remains in a semi-vegetative state, but he’s in stable condition.

“We couldn't ask for anything more, I guess,” Dawn said. “As long as he's home and healthy, we're okay."

The family decided to re-open the restaurant but had to start from scratch. 

Credit: KING TV
Sam Ung opened Phnom Penh Noodle House in 1987 and it's now run by his daughters, Diane, Dawn and Darlene.

"We had no experience at all, so we definitely needed all the help we could get," Diane said. "Everyone reached out and offered to help in any way they could."

Community support made it possible, from a city grant to a fundraising dinner hosted by another small restaurant.

The result is a modern, bright family eatery featuring the same delicious dishes they've always served. After so much time away, Phnom Penh was finally ready to welcome back customers.

"We had been planning so hard for the March 14th grand opening day, but of course the world had different plans,” Diane said.

The coronavirus closure dashed their plans, and once again the Ung family found themselves facing an uncertain future.

So once again, they adapted - shifting their entire business model to curbside pick-up and to-go items.

"It's wonderful, and we're excited to be here even though it's just for takeout,” Dawn said.

Resilience and love keep the family and their restaurant going, giving customers more to take away than just food.

"There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Diane said. “You band together and do what's needed to get there."

Phnom Penh Noodle House | 913 S. Jackson St. | Offers takeout service for lunch and dinner | Order can be placed online or over the phone

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