Though she’s now known as the owner of one of Orlando’s most cherished vegan and Vietnamese restaurants, Veggie Garden, Cindy Pham’s path to Central Florida was fraught with upheaval. It began when she and her family left their native Vietnam in 1979 as part of the famous “boat people” migration; a stint in a Hong Kong refugee camp followed. Ultimately, the family settled in Denver, Colorado, and Pham was able to move on from the tumult of her earliest days into a lifetime of achievement.
A degree in electronic engineering led to a career with First Data Corporation in Englewood, Colorado. But the wishes of her parents to live in Orlando brought them all here in 2001: “Vietnamese people are rich in family relation,” she explains.
Work followed with Sunterra Resorts, Starwood Vacation Ownership, and Wyndham Vacation Ownership. It’s as the proprietor of Veggie Garden, however, that Pham has made her biggest imprint on the community. The restaurant flies the flag not only for the vegan lifestyle Pham herself follows, but also for the cultural traditions of Vietnam, which she lists as including “ancestor veneration, respect for community and family values, handicrafts and manual labor, and devotion to study.”
Orlando’s agreeable weather reminds Pham of her native country, she says, and enables her to spend her spare time engaging in lots of outdoor activities, like the planting of tropical fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs.
Having her business nestled in the heart of Mills 50’s “Vietnam Town” keeps Pham in the thick of her culture, with neighboring restaurants and merchants like the venerable Saigon Market, Dong a Imports, and Phuoc Loc Tho helping to buttress one of the city’s most vibrant heritage neighborhoods.
“Vietnamese people are hard workers,” she says. One visit to her thriving establishment makes that point quite clearly – and puts an exclamation point on the story of her personal journey from trials to triumphs.