Perpetually packed Di An Di emptied house in early March when New York was put on PAUSE, but that hasn’t stopped the Vietnamese restaurant from feeding Greenpoint. Yes, the limits and lack of support have led to a very F-ed up situation for all small businesses, to paraphrase Di An Di chef and co-owner Dennis Ngo, but the beloved eatery is still feeding the community in several new ways.
“We’ve been trying to find out what hospitality means,” Ngo says. “What does a neighborhood business mean? We’re no longer a space, so what are we?” A spin-off delivery concept, Di Di, as well as a to-go market, Di Cho, which launches on Sunday, are intended to satiate Di An Di lovers, while adjusting to new restrictions and ways of interaction.
Di Di, which means “to go”, is Di An Di’s takeout restaurant
Coincidentally, Di An Di prepared all winter to launch delivery, finally confirming the logistics to start delivering a limited menu of pho and cooked dishes the same week New York paused. The menu was planned, the tiny condiment cups and large cardboard soup bowls in place, when Ngo and his team realized after a while, that guests and supporters were feeling fatigued of the limited menu. Combine that with many Americans not enjoying soup year round, as Southeast Asians do, and the Di An Di team realized the menu needed some seasonal adjustment for the hot, pandemic-ridden months ahead.
Originally, the takeout menu was intended to be a byproduct of the in-house menu, and now it’s Di An Di’s main revenue stream. In house, Ngo says the options could be more “exotic” and “unrecognizable” to people who don’t have much experience with Vietnamese cuisine, because servers could explain and de-mystify the dishes.
“Delivery is a different model. We can’t do the same things,” Ngo says. “People use food to escape the craziness around us. They want things that are familiar, and a lot of our menu didn’t have that so much. To serve our community in the most optimal way, we’re transitioning to a menu that has a lot more name awareness of the dishes, people recognize them from Vietnamese American restaurants.” The summer menu, which launched last weekend, has been well received and fits nicely into the Di Di model. Another pivot, thanks to the temporary 8 p.m. curfew, led Di Di to serve banh mi for a special lunch this week, donating profits to Color of Change.
Di Di is a sister brand of Di An Di. It’s Instagram account shows behind the scenes research and development of new menu items and engages with guests on a new level. Di An Di staff demonstrate how to eat crawfish, or showcase nightly specials. Eventually, when Di An Di can reopen, it will have a completely different menu from Di Di, which allows guests to different unique experiences to enjoy the brand’s food.
Di Cho, which means “go to the grocery store,” is Di An Di’s new market concept
Hundreds of restaurants have started selling provisions in addition to or instead of their cooked menu items, and a similar model seems to work for Di An Di. As people start cooking more at home, the owners asked how they can help the community with their efforts, especially in New York, where kitchens are small, food storage is smaller, and starting from scratch isn’t always realistic.
“We take a lot of time researching and selecting vendors, curating ingredients,” Ngo says. “We want to give our neighbors the opportunity to purchase these from us, cook with products we make and things we recommend.” The colorful patio outside the restaurant will serve as a farmer’s market style shop, where passersby can purchase treats like coconut ice cream sandwiches, Vietnamese coffee affogatos, savory pastries, and more, thanks to recently hired pastry chef (and former Di An Di bookkeeper) Krispy Park.
Di Cho will launch Sunday, June 7th, and if it’s successful, Ngo promises expanded offerings such as pantry goods, and perhaps homemade chicken bone or beef bone broth, which could easily work in any cuisine cooked at home. Di Cho will also have its own Instagram page, where chefs can show how to use ingredients or prepared foods in different ways and showcase recipes.
“We’re providing a resource for home cooks,” Ngo says, “And bridging the gap until things start to return to normal, whenever it may be.”