Salem Eats: Mina’s Culinary Journey from Laos to Salem
Located at 3995 Commercial St SE, Salem, OR 97302, Mina’s Cafe stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of a woman who has woven her life’s tapestry with threads of culinary passion, resilience, and the desire to share her gift with the community. Mina, the heart and soul behind this beloved local eatery, has journeyed from the war-torn landscapes of Laos to the bustling streets of Salem, bringing with her a rich palette of flavors that marries the best of Southeast Asian and American cuisines.
Reflecting on her early years in Laos during the upheaval of the Vietnam War, Mina recalls, “My family got separated…left my mother and four younger children at home. Since my mother lost her maid, I stepped up took all the chores so it would be easy for my mother. Then I started to cook for the family and have been cooking almost every day.” It was in these moments of necessity that Mina’s lifelong relationship with cooking began.
Mina’s culinary journey took her from the family’s convenience store in her village to her aunt’s Thai restaurant in downtown Beaverton, and eventually, to various culinary ventures across the Portland Metro area. However, it was a turning point in 2006, after a layoff from Intel, that Mina found her true calling. She shares a powerful lesson learned from Howard H. White’s “Believe to Achieve”: “Every one of us receives a gift from God. Looking for that gift in yourself, the gift which you believe that you can do better than everybody else and you enjoy doing it.” Mina found her gift in cooking, leading her to pivot her career towards the restaurant industry.
Mina’s initial foray into restaurant ownership with the McNarry Golf Court restaurant taught her the harsh realities of business overheads. Yet, it was her unyielding spirit that led her to open a small deli and ultimately, Mina’s Cafe. Despite the challenges of its hidden location, Mina believes in the power of word-of-mouth: “It is hard for customers to find me, but my rent is where I can afford. I believe when customers find me, they will tell others.”
Mina’s Cafe is not just a place to eat; it’s a haven where Mina shares her culinary gift and allows “God to shine his grace through me.” Her passion for cooking and for her customers is palpable: “I enjoy looking at my customers’ happy faces in front of me. Many customers would be standing and waiting for my hugs before they leave the restaurant. That is priceless.”
The menu at Mina’s Cafe is a vibrant testament to Mina’s expertise and creativity, blending Western ingredients with Asian spices. From the “Crispy Mango Cheesecake Quesadilla,” which she proudly claims is “badly good” and a testament to her innovative spirit, to the healthy and traditional Laotian “Larb,” Mina’s culinary range is wide and welcoming.
Beyond the kitchen, Mina is committed to sharing her knowledge through cooking classes, focusing on empowering high school students with the skills to cook for themselves. “I think cooking is a special skill which everyone should acquire,” she emphasizes, underlining her dedication to culinary education.
Mina’s Cafe is more than a restaurant; it’s a story of a woman’s journey from hardship to hope, a place where food transcends mere sustenance to become a medium of love, connection, and community support. In Mina’s own words, running a restaurant is hard work, but for her, it is “rewarded for me. I got to share my gifted cooking skill and to allow God to shine his grace through me.”
As Mina continues to serve her community at 3995 Commercial St SE, Salem, OR 97302, her cafe stands as a beacon of culinary excellence and a reminder of the power of resilience, passion, and the joy of sharing one’s gifts with the world.