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How Chef Helene An’s Famous Garlic Noodles Evolved Into A Gen-Z Favorite With NOODS

Chef Helene An is often recognized as the “mother of fusion cuisine.” Most famously known for her Beverly Hills institution and its legendary Secret Kitchen where An’s Famous Garlic Noodles are made, her Asian-American story actually began in 1975 after the fall of Saigon. Most recently her Famous Garlic Noodles have struck popularity with Gen Z and millennials through NOODS, a ‘digital to delivery’ dining concept by Crustacean Beverly Hills. Designed to be perfect for takeaway or a portable meal on the go, the NOODS Box plays off bento-ology and features a topper, snack, noods, salad and veggies created by their world-famous culinary team for a complete meal at accessible prices. 

The history of An’s Famous Garlic Noodles started in 1971 when An’s mother-in-law, Diana An, traveled to San Francisco on her own where she bought a deli on a whim with a one-bedroom apartment above the deli. During the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Ans’ fled the country and settled in San Francisco where they all lived together in that one-bedroom apartment. Within the first year of living there, An quickly learned English and received her CPA and was an accountant by day and ran the deli at night. The deli eventually became Thanh Long restaurant where An incorporated her own unique creations like roasted Dungeness crab and a few authentic Vietnamese dishes like cha gioÌ, or Vietnamese egg rolls to the menu. 

An thought that truly authentic Vietnamese flavors would be too foreign for the American palate so she incorporated some of the French and Chinese dishes she was exposed to from her family’s chefs. She saw how many people loved pasta dishes and while she did not know how to make cacio e pepe, she knew how to make noodles. She also knew from her Eastern Medicine training back in Vietnam that garlic has medicinal properties which make it easy to digest. Together, this led to the birth of her signature crowd-pleasing garlic noodles. To protect her top-secret recipes, they built another kitchen behind the one in the deli which became known as the “secret kitchen.” Thanh Long’s menu consisted of mostly Vietnamese dishes and attracted a cult following. While the restaurant was successful, An and her daughters never thought it would ever become a trendy restaurant with a global impact. Her daughter Elizabeth An who worked in the fashion industry became more interested in the business of the restaurant. In 1991 the family opened Crustacean San Francisco, the first high-end Vietnamese fusion restaurant. After much success, they created Crustacean Beverly Hills in 1997 which is their eponymous flagship today. 

Just a few months before the pandemic, Chef An opened Da Lat Rose along with Elizabeth An and her granddaughter Bosilika An to share authentic Vietnamese flavors with America. Wanting to provide a platform for aspiring young chefs to elevate their home cuisines and re-imagine traditional dishes, Da Lat Rose is a gastro-biography that uses Helene’s tumultuous life as a lens the diner can view Vietnamese-American journey with. To celebrate her culinary contributions, Helene was recently presented with the Pioneer Award in Culinary Arts by the Smithsonian Institute in May 2019 in their first-ever Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center celebration. In her 40-plus-year career, she was the first to introduce Vietnamese flavors to mainstream America, forever changing their palates with cuisine that honors both cultures.

Even with all of the family’s success, the pandemic made them rethink how customers could easily enjoy their famous dishes from the comfort of their own home at a more accessible price. “For my family and I, 2020, much like every other American family was incredibly trying and scary. I watched my family business teeter on the brink and endure so many unknowns. We were forced to re-imagine what dining could be, who our customers are and had to pivot to survive this. So many entrepreneurs I admire talk about creating a product out of necessity, and until now I didn’t really understand what that meant. In starting this project, I found a true passion for what we’re creating with Noods & the tremendous support we’ve received is really humbling and encouraging that the American dream may still be possible to achieve,” shared Bosilika An.

While NOODS was created out of necessity, it ended up going viral in its soft launch by attracting interest from Gen Z on Tik Tok and Instagram. Everyone from Kris Jenner, Bella Thorne, Liza Koshy, Diplo, Charli, and Dixie D’Amelio, Liza Koshy and Adrienne Bailon have become fans of the concept. “For so many millennials in LA, they grew up eating at Crustacean on a special occasion with their family and they associate her food with elevation and inaccessibility. Through designing a concept that re-frames how her flavors and signature dish (An’s Famous Garlic Noodles) are experienced, we’ve made her cuisine available to a broader audience. I think about what keeps me engaged with brands and we try to carry that through with our messaging, branding, partnerships and customer experiences,” added An. 

The catchy slogans, eye-catching design and play on words have lured new consumers into trying the concept but the flavors keep them coming back. “By creating a concept with eye-catching branding that incorporates playful slogans like calling our customers #noodists,NOODS immediately becomes more than just a meal but an overall experience that you want to share with others both in-person and on social media”, said Alex Georgy and Adam Alper, NOODS partners and co-founders of Bloggers Who Brunch.

Chef An is also very proud of how the NOODS concept has carried out her legacy to a new generation, “I’m really proud of my granddaughter for carrying my legacy on in her own way. It was a very difficult year for my family and we thought often about closing down our business. My granddaughter showed us that millennial and Gen Z generations have a different way of dining and discovering foods and that we were missing out on that wonderful customer base. I’m really proud of what she is creating and to watch her grow and develop this new brand.” 

NOODS is available for pick up or delivery every Thursday through Sunday in partnership with Los Angeles’s newest ride-sharing app Alto. However, NOODSLETTER subscribers get first access to weekly drops and exclusive limited offerings on Tuesdays at 10 am while the general public can order later that day. Currently, there are six different customizable box sizes (Mini, Mojo, Four Play, Magnum, O’ Naturale, and Family Jewels) with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.

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