Mai Village, a Vietnamese restaurant on University Avenue in St. Paul, will shut its doors for good next month after a long financial struggle.
Owners Mai Nguyen and her husband, Ngoan Dang, announced to customers in a Facebook post that the restaurant will officially close Nov. 18 — drawing anguished responses from longtime patrons who applauded their quality food and reasonable prices.
Since 1992, Mai Village has greeted customers with a flair, serving signature dishes like the Bò 7 Mon, which includes seven courses of beef. What began as a smaller cafe eventually grew into an ornate dining room with hand-carved furniture from Vietnam and a wooden bridge overlooking a large koi pond.
"I always felt like I was stepping into a peaceful sanctuary," Tonja Rolfson wrote in response to the announcement. "Such a beautiful place to go for lunch during the work week."
Hundreds of others commented and shared the post, vowing to return for one final meal and thanking the owners for their contributions to the community.
Mai Village has been facing an upward climb for almost a decade. The business was crippled in 2007 at the start of the recession, then again a few years later when light-rail construction outside its main entrance made the restaurant hard to reach. Owners encouraged patrons to use the Western Avenue entrance, which was more accessible during months of demolition.
During that time, the Star Tribune released a food guide highlighting delicious grub options on the 12-block construction stretch of University Avenue. Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson had this to say about the establishment:
"If there were awards for Most Striking Ambience, Mai Village would sprint right past the winner's circle and stride straight into Lifetime Achievement status," he wrote. "It's a stunner."
In 2013, when Nguyen and Dang were very near closing from the loss of daily customers as the Green Line was built, the St. Paul City Council forgave a 10-year-old loan totaling more than $500,000 with interest. The Hmong American Partnership bought the Mai Village building and agreed to lease it out to the family restaurant and use the second floor for its programming.
Since then, Mai Village has been a participating member of the Green Line Checklist Food Tour and maintained a three-star rating on the review site Yelp.