Ginger Deli Is Back
With banh mi, pho, and plans for a work space
by Micheline Maynard
From the January, 2021 issue
For more than two years, Ginger Deli's canopied patio at Liberty and Division has stood empty. If passersby didn't know the Vietnamese spot had a takeout booth at University Hospital, they might have wondered what happened to it.
Wonder no more. Ginger Deli is back, this time in its own Liberty St. storefront a few blocks west. Owner Te Phan opened in December in the spot that was very briefly Former Vintage, and, for generations before, the Chelsea Flower Shop. He's making the Vietnamese noodle soup called pho, and banh mi, sandwiches with savory fillings on crusty French bread.
With dining rooms shut by the pandemic, you might think Phan had chosen the worst possible time to open. He wouldn't disagree. "No one in their crazy mind would open a restaurant now," he says.
But, he says, "We are trying to give people some hope. They see people closing and running away. We're running forward."
Phan's life in the U.S. has been marked by a series of moves. Born in Vietnam, he emigrated with his family in 1983 to Holland, Michigan, when he was ten years old.
The move, arranged by his aunt, was sponsored by a local church. The Phans stood out from the rest of the community, known for its Dutch roots. "I was the only black-haired kid in the whole school with all the blond-haired kids," he says, laughing.
He attended Hope College for two years, where he studied classical piano performance, then transferred to what is now the Cleveland Institute of Art.
After graduation, he became an industrial designer at Ford, working on concept cars in a studio across from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.
About a decade later, Phan decided he wanted to "create my own canvas." He founded an events business then became an importer of products for hospitality clients, such as hotels and events companies.
He opened the original Ginger Deli in 2014, using recipes he learned from his mother. He added
the hospital location in 2017, and when the lease expired on Liberty in 2018, he did not renew it, though the canopy was never removed (the corner is being eyed for redevelopment).
When we talked to him in early December, Phan was making four types of banh mi--beef, chicken, vegetarian, and his signature pancetta, a marinated pork shoulder. They're served on a half baguette--which Phan bakes at the Washtenaw Food Hub's commercial kitchen on Whitmore Lake Rd.--and dressed with a mix of pickled carrots and daikon (an Asian radish), cilantro, cucumber, and a garlic aioli. By January he plans to add pho, made with either a rich beef-based broth, which he says takes forty hours to cook, or a vegetable broth.
For now, Ginger Deli is carryout only; patrons can pick up prepaid orders from a shelf at the front of the store. Phan hopes to add delivery and evening hours later, and--once indoor dining resumes--an in-house work space at the back of the restaurant.
Profits are not the goal. "Right now, it's just to make rent," he says. "We want to make our food really healthy and affordable, you know? That's been our philosophy from day one."
Ginger Deli (downtown location), 203 E. Liberty, (734) 786-1331. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sun. gingerdeli.square.site
[Originally published in January, 2021.]
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