Fourth Street Grill. Photo credit: My Tam Nguyen

History’s best art, food and inspiration for social change can come from its worst tragedies, war and struggle. After the Vietnam War, more than 300,000 orphans and 800,000 children lost one or both parents in Vietnam, according to Rice University statistics. In 1975, this is the Vietnam, Laney Ly, owner of 4th Street Grill and Lounge was born into.

Sitting in her new restaurant in the Highland neighborhood of Renton surrounded by single family homes and strip malls 35 years later, this is far removed from her childhood of post-war Nha Trang, a coastal city at the lower protruding belly of Vietnam. As Ly reflects on her life and her future goals and dreams, she recalls the poverty and hunger she saw from her childhood, especially during the flood season. Children and orphans were left hungry to fend for themselves with parents who were either killed or jailed.

“I saw children lying in the streets dying,” says Ly. “There were people roaming the streets with no legs or arms begging for food. There was no one there to support them after the war. I told myself that when I grow up, I will do something to help, that if I can and had the ability to, I will.”

Ly’s philanthropic spirit has deep ties to her passion for food and working to better the lives of kids. During her first trip back to Vietnam in 1996, not being able to bear seeing the struggle of begging street children, she asked a food street vendor to give them as many meals as they’d wanted and she would pay the vendor at the end of her trip. Today, she is one step closer to realizing her lifelong dream to be a successful business owner and having the capacity and resources to be able to give back to the children and elderly.

“That’s what makes me work harder. I know this type of business is not easy to do,” notes Ly. “I’ve always been passionate about food and wanted to open my own business. It’s my goal and dream to be able to reach out and help others and be successful by 35. If I work eight hours a day in accounting, it will not make my dream come true.”

A former accountant, Ly’s first restaurant is set to have its grand opening in March, and already has a following of clients during its soft launch. Fourth Street Grill and Lounge is an example of the few gems which can sometimes be found in strip malls. Welcoming you into the Fourth Street Grill on a weeknight are warm earth tones and spice colors and Ly’s gracious smile and hospitable warmth. Ly says she wants her customers to be able to relax, have a glass of wine, enjoy some good food, and with the downturn in the economy, she’s lowered her prices. Happy hour food specials are $2.50 and drink specials are $3 wells 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

Growing up, Ly’s family owned a restaurant in Nha Trang and they share a common love of classic Vietnamese noodle dishes. While her sister is the chef of the family, famous for her hot pot and fish noodle soup, Ly says she cooks up a mean bun rieu, a seafood noodle soup.

The food is a rendition of Vietnamese traditional dishes combined with American comfort foods. Vietnamese classics like the spicy and savory Bun Bo Hue share a menu with the decadent Spicy Prawns, seasoned tender prawns with fragrant garlic and a bite of spiciness of chili pepper and spaghetti in a butter sauce. The pork chops, pot roast, and banh xeo are also must tries. For vegetarians, the vegetarian tofu spring rolls and veggie stir fries are filling and healthy options. If you are looking for a good drink, Ly recommends the apple martini to go with American dishes, and the Riesling or house mimosa to go with many of the Vietnamese dishes.

“I want people to experience not just Asian or American foods, but a combination of the East and West,” said Ly.

Though it is a new business, Ly says she is dedicated to keep community service and charity involvement as a foundation for her business model. She is donating food, catering and serving services to the International Examiner’s March 6, 2010 “Headlines Come to Life” benefit event.

“Hopefully in the future I will continue to do this, with community and charity involvement,” says Ly. “I would like to spend more time to volunteer, to donate to community and charity.”

Fourth Street Grill and Lounge has catering and meeting menus and gift certificates on their website. You can visit 4th Street Grill and Lounge at 4004 NE 4th St, Renton, WA 98056. (425) 255-3595. Or, visit them online: www. 4thstreetgrillrenton.com.

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