By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” said Diane Le, of her family’s decision to close the Phnom Penh Noodle House on 660 South King Street.
“Realizing that life is short and there’s so much time spent at the business. We just need to focus on our families.”
A big part of that focus has been on Devin Cropp, the son of Dawn Ung, Diane’s sister — and one of the co-owners of Phnom Penh. Dawn and another sister, Darlene Ung, run the place ever since their parents, who started the business, retired.
Devin Cropp, a Franklin High School senior, was hit by a car on Sept. 26, 2017, while he was on his way home from a frisbee game at his school. His younger brother Derin, a freshman, was walking just a couple of steps behind — the car narrowly missed him. Devin was rushed to Harborview with injuries to his head and body that have required several surgeries to stabilize. Their mother Dawn said Devin’s prognosis is not good.
“More than 30 percent of his brain is damaged. He doesn’t have functions. He’s tube fed.” The accident has taken a toll on the whole family.
“Dawn’s had to step out of the business and Darlene has been managing it on her own … it’s just a lot,” said Diane.
For now, the family is taking it day by day. Devin has been back and forth between a care facility and Harborview, depending on the changes in his condition. Most recently, he was discharged from Harborview on April 2, where he had spent two months after a fall that set his recovery back. Dawn said his caretakers placed him in his wheelchair without his seatbelt buckled and helmet on, and he fell out of his wheelchair face down.
A GoFundMe drive for Devin (gofundme.com/devincrecovery) has raised close to $64,000.
Dawn wrote on the GoFundMe page, “We’ve only been able to get by because of this extraordinary community.
The genuine love and support on all levels have been overwhelming.”
Unfortunately, the donations have only scratched the surface.
“I had to purchase a van, so I could transport Devin. I had to put a lift on the van. That’s another $14,000. I’d be in a worst state if I didn’t have that bit of support (from GoFundMe).”
“It’s so hard to ask for help,” said Dawn.
Two months ago, she left the restaurant to get a job with benefits.
“I’m struggling to be honest — emotionally. Physically, I’m so exhausted. The new job is so taxing on the body.” She works during the day, then spends evenings with Devin, and cares for him. Often times, she doesn’t get home until 9 or 10 p.m.
“I took a pay cut going to this new company because there was an opportunity. I thought it was a good foot in the door with my experience and so forth. Lateral movement is kind of slow, and pay increases take awhile.”
In addition to Devin’s brother, Dawn has a 6-year-old daughter, Daylin.
“She understands that she doesn’t have her brother around anymore the way she used to. It doesn’t affect her like it affects Derin.”
Derin, Dawn says, is struggling with guilt — and has expressed that “it should have been me, not him.”
“[Devin] was the one who always took care of him. His dad was in the military and really wasn’t in his life. But his brother was. They shared a room forever and now he doesn’t have that company anymore.”
The family business
“[The restaurant] was my dad’s dream,” Diane said tearfully. “He (Sam Ung) came as a refugee from Cambodia and had a talent for cooking. The restaurant was his gift to the community.”
Diane said she and her sisters were always at the restaurant as little girls.
“We grew up with our customers. We saw them as young adults when they were dating, now they’re married and have kids. Thirty years is a long time to be in the community.”
Even before the accident, Diane said the community has always been tight knit.
“We feel so honored and special to be part of Chinatown International District. We’ve received so much support from the (Wing Luke) museum, other business owners (Kau Kau, Shanghai Garden, Oasis, and Hau Hau Market to name a few), and our landlord who’s like our uncle.”
“It’s so sad that the restaurant is closing,” said Dawn. Prior to the accident, Dawn said the income from Phnom Penh gave her and her family a decent living. But then, things changed.
“I’m divorced and I don’t have any benefits being a small business owner,” said Dawn.
Ever since she stepped away from the restaurant to care for Devin, her business partner and younger sister Darlene has had to do everything.
“She needs that break,” said Dawn. “For herself. To support me, Devin.”
Diane said her family is still working through the paperwork of the sale. Once that gets signed and the buyers fulfill their end of the deal, they anticipate handing over the keys at the end of May.
Phnom Penh’s tentative last day of operation is May 28. The restaurant Facebook page reads: “Be sure to join us for our closing celebration anytime between 2 – 6 p.m. on Friday, May 18th. We’ll have refreshments, cake, and lots of hugs!”
Regarding the future of the Phnom Penh Noodle House, Diane said, “The possibilities are endless. We know we’ve got a great product.”
“We definitely want to connect with our customers again.”
Phnom Penh’s last day of operation is May 28. The restaurant will serve lunch until 2 p.m., then prepare to shut down for a closing celebration between 4 – 7 p.m. “Stop by any time during this time frame for refreshments, cake, and lots of hugs!” reads the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.