Mai Khuu's journey to Pittsburgh began in 1980 with an apprehensive step on to a small boat with her husband, their 2-year-old son and 15 other persons who were fleeing Vietnam.
They spent five days and four nights on the 10-foot-by-12-foot boat in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand before landing in Thailand. They lived there for a year and then made their way to California. Six months later, they came to Pittsburgh.
After working at a variety of jobs, Mrs. Khuu and her husband, Suoi Van Khuu, owned and operated restaurants in Garfield (Hunan Garden) and Bloomfield (Royal Dragon). They then opened the one they are best known for -- Kim's Coffee Shop in Garfield. The restaurant was on the ground floor in a former garage and basement. The family lived above it.
It soon became a favorite, especially with the late-night theater crowd. The restaurant closed in January after Mrs. Khuu was diagnosed with cancer. She died Friday at the Heartland Health Care Center in Shadyside. She was 49.
"Her hard work, dedication and sacrifice got us where we are today," said her son, Nam Giang Khuu of Shadyside. "She was a warm, loving person. She made sure we got the best education. She was proud of the fact that both my sister (Hoa Hong Khuu, also of Shadyside) and I graduated from college and went on to earn master's degrees."
Mrs. Khuu and her husband worked seven days a week to make Kim's a success. Their son and daughter, who was born in Pittsburgh, pitched in when they were old enough. "My sister and I had our share of restaurant work," Mr. Khuu said.
Mrs. Khuu's hospitality was such that customers became friends and then became extended members of the family. If someone called for take-out after closing time, she'd take their order and prepare it for them.
Although Mrs. Khuu enjoyed traditional Vietnamese dishes, she also liked Pizza Hut pizza and Wendy's spicy chicken sandwiches. She was a big sports fan, her son said. "She loved the Steelers. She was so happy to see them win the Super Bowl."
Mrs. Khuu and her husband met through mutual friends. She came from a wealthy background. He came from a poor farming community. Her parents, who owned and operated a successful clothing and accessories store, didn't approve. "But my dad won their hearts, too," their son said.
In addition to her husband of 29 years and their children, Mrs. Khuu is survived by her parents, Te Tran and Tam Tran, of Fairfield, Calif.; two brothers Hung Tran and Hoang Tran, both of Fairfield, Calif.; and two sisters, Lan Tran of Los Angeles and Cuc Tran, of Fairfield, Calif.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. today at McCabe Brothers Funeral Home, 5300 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery.
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and 412-263-1488.