Hard working. Ambitious. Creative. Friends say restaurateur Thom Pham could star in any television reality show from "Top Chef," to "The Apprentice,"to "So You Think You Can Dance."
Thom Pham has great posture and nice hair and audacious jackets and a grin like a Cheshire cat.He glides around his restaurant Azia, which has helped transform a once-tattered section of Nicollet Avenue, and shakes a hand here or folds a napkin there. His movement suggests someone schooled in dance or the martial arts, and, in fact, he’s a competitive ballroom dancer and once taught judo (before realizing, "Who would I beat up?")
It’s here, moving among the mixed tables of swells and neighborhood locals, that Pham’s artistry reveals. The restaurant business is his fandango, and it has been since he started working in his grandmother’s kitchen at 4 a.m. every day in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, at age 6.
That was long before the Minneapolis Johnsons adopted 15-year-old Pham, who, as a mixed-race boy of a single mother and an American G.I., didn’t have much future in Vietnam.