Lana Vuong is probably one of the first people you’ll see inside Hai Cang Seafood Harbor in the heart of Houston’s Chinatown on Bellaire Boulevard. Fast-paced and upbeat, there’s a rhythm and flow that let’s you know the food has to be good. And the wall of tanks filled with live lobsters and crabs lets you know the seafood is going to be fresh.
Husband, Cuong Luong is usually in the kitchen preparing one of the restaurant’s signature Cantonese-styled dishes: Dungeness Crab with Tamarind sauce, Black Pepper Lobster, Seafood Fried Rice and Peking Duck.
The couple came to Houston in the early 80’s after fleeing their native Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. Lana, who does most of the talking, said her husband learned to cook while they were in a refugee camp in Hong Kong.
Now almost four decades later, they have worked hard to establish a successful seafood restaurant with plenty of loyal customers. Then the pandemic hit.
Lana said it was a tearful day on March 17, 2020 when they had to close the doors and send their employees home because of the pandemic. To keep some money coming in and a few employees working, they offered meals to go. From April through June, they donated boxed meals to front line workers at several hospitals. “We work hard for this country, we contribute whatever we are able to do,” Lana explained.
As the restaurant limped along during the first weeks of the pandemic, Lana said she was saddened to hear Chinese Americans blamed for bringing the virus to America. She was even more upset to see the violence against Asian Americans grow. It is not the America she knows and loves. “We are Asian, but we’ve been here for 40 years. We work hard, pay taxes and my youngest son served in the U.S. Army for nine years,” Lana said. “I don’t like to see the racism and violence in the United States. What is ‘united’? It’s together. Together we make this country more beautiful. We are human,” she said.
Lana said she and her family have not experienced any violence or open bigotry, however, she is worried about her Asian American employees who take the bus home alone in the evenings. For now, she tries to get her employees to carpool or travel together if they can.
It is a Sunday evening at Hai Cang Seafood Harbor, all the tables are filled, the wait staff is masked-up and busy serving hungry customers; Lana and Cuong talk briefly as she mops up a spill and he heads back to the kitchen. Lots of laughter and families making memories. Still recovering from a tough year, but business is good. Life goes on.
Hai Cang Seafood Harbor
Location: 11768 Bellaire
Check out the menu.