Last week we reported that Mi Linh (9737 Manchester Road; 314-918-8868), the nine-month-old Vietnamese restaurant in Rock Hill, parted ways with its executive chef, Nelson Tran. Owner Dee Dee Tran told us in a statement and through a spokeswoman that the split with Nelson and his wife Linh Tu, the restaurant's manager, was due to other family issues and completely amicable. She claimed that his exit was seamless and patrons didn't notice. At the time, we were unable to get in contact with Nelson or Tu.
Since then, Gut Check received an e-mail from Nelson and Tu's son, James, who was also a server at Mi Linh.
"Everything you received and written about was definitely a lie," he wrote. "My family wanted to let you know for our reputation."
We met up with Nelson and his family to hear their side of the story. One of the first things we learned? His real name isn't even "Nelson Tran."
Nelson, a quiet man, says that he and Tran are half siblings; they have the same mother but different fathers. Bizarrely, his last name isn't even Tran -- it's Padilla. He claims Dee Dee told everyone (including RFT) his last name was Tran when she did press for Mi Linh without asking him for permission.
The three opened Mi Linh in May, and Padilla says the plan was that Tran would step back after three months and let Padilla and Tu run the restaurant. However, everything (including the business license) was put in Tran's name.
Padilla and Tu tell us that Tran never did back off, and eventually Tu thought it might be easier for everyone if she returned to her previous job at a nail salon. She left Mi Linh October 7, but her husband continued to work at the restaurant.
"Of course, family working together, we do have arguments sometimes because it's busy, we're tired, it's long days. We do have arguments," Tu says. "But Dee Dee, she changed. She really changed. She's a totally different person."
Two weeks after Tu left, Padilla claims Tran told him that if he wanted his name on the business, he'd have to divorce Tu, his wife of more than twenty years and mother of his three children.
"My husband said, 'If I have to choose between business and family, I choose family.' So that's why, one week after that, she kicked him out," Tu says as Padilla nods.
Padilla says his relationship with Tran got so bad she accused him of stealing food and alleges that she threatened to call the cops if he ever returned to the restaurant. He also says that Tran told family friends Padilla left because he is ill, and people have been calling their house, worried about him.
About two months after their departure, James says, the declining reputation of the restaurant (he points to the Yelp reviews) prompted him to post the following message on Mi Linh's Facebook page:
Meanwhile, it's unclear to the family how Mi Linh continues to function. Padilla believes Tran is now the head of the kitchen.
"She doesn't know how to cook anything. I don't know how she's managing to make the food. That's why we put [the announcement] on the website," he says.
Padilla already has a new job in the kitchen at Goody Cafe (3939 Lindell Boulevard), which opened earlier this month. It serves bubble tea and Asian cuisine, including Padilla's Vietnamese specialties. Tu and Padilla say it is still their dream to own their own restaurant, but for now they don't have the money. They allege they put everything they had into Mi Linh and didn't receive any money from Tran when they left.
"We love her dearly," Tu says, close to tears. "She helped us more than we know, but deep inside, everything changed after the restaurant opened. We know we made profits -- she never gave us any profits."
Padilla just nods. "Money changes people."
We e-mailed and left a message at Mi Linh for Tran so she could respond to her brother and sister-in-law's allegations. Her spokesperson, Kim Anderson, told us neither she nor Tran saw "any reason to respond."