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Mai Lan Nguyen's farewell to Orchid: A decade of culinary excellence and community love

Nguyen moved to the United States in 1996 and moved to Statesboro in 1997. Her family opened Nikko back then, and she later opened Orchid in 2013. The restaurant will soon transition to new ownership, but here she shares memories of the decade she has spent in the restaurant with her own children and members of the Statesboro community.
Mai Lan Nguyen with children Tommy and Jenny

Renowned Statesboro restaurant, Orchid, has gained a stellar reputation for its quality cuisine, boasting numerous awards over the past decade. The accolades, proudly displayed on the lobby walls, are a testament to the community's profound affection for Orchid and its owner, Mai Lan Nguyen. As Mai Lan prepares to close the chapter on Orchid and pass the torch to new ownership, she wishes to express her heartfelt gratitude to the people of Statesboro for their years of dedication and support. Here's a reflection of Orchid's history and the heartwarming journey and experiences of its owner, Mai Lan.

Mai Lan, who moved to America from Vietnam in 1996, put down roots in Southeast Georgia, initially residing in Savannah and immersing herself in the restaurant industry. One regular customer at the spot Mai Lan was working at, Eddy Rushing, encouraged her to open a restaurant in the surrounding area and spoke highly of Statesboro, describing its people as warm, friendly, and a great place to raise a family. Inspired by the stories of the town, Mai Lan and her family made the move to Statesboro shortly after in 1997.

Old photo
Photo provided by Mai Lan, 2004

“This was before Longhorns and Ruby Tuesdays; Statesboro was still a very small town then. We wanted to open something nice, a sit down experience,” Mai Lan reminisced. She and her family had a heart for bringing something fresh to the community, and so they opened Nikko’s, what was then a sit down restaurant focusing on Japanese cuisine.

“It was truly like living the American dream for us,” Mai Lan shared. “However, like with the ups and downs of the ocean, business flow came and went and came again, and things changed with time. Nikko’s eventually became what it is now—Nikko’s Express.” Mai Lan's ex-partner retained Nikko's after a separation, but her passion for sharing the quality food of her roots persisted. In 2013, she decided to embark on a new venture and opened Orchid.

staff photo a
Orchid Staff Photo, 2019

Reflecting on the past decade of business, Mai Lan smiled fondly, explaining the importance of Orchid in her life. The restaurant provided a platform to teach her children about real-life experiences and the value of dedicated hard work.

“This is a place where I was able to teach the kids about real life. Jenny tells me some days she was lucky to have worked here now that she’s at the hospital in Savannah because of all she learned here about hard work.” 

Mai Lan also shared that Orchid played a large role in her English learning journey. “My employees are great, they help me practice and learn new ways. I’ll always be learning, and they help make it more fun. The guests too, they help teach me what to say and when. I am very thankful for that,” she shared. 

Inspired by her own children, Mai Lan expressed that supporting local kids with work while they pursued their education was one of Orchid's main goals. Mai Lan emphasized how Orchid's work environment became intertwined with the Statesboro community, allowing her to witness the growth of individuals over the last decade. 

"I've seen kids grow up through the restaurant; there's one who worked here, and he's now a captain in the Marines —Calvin. I am touched because he continues to send Christmas cards over the years. Another, Chad, I knew him as a kid; he worked here in high school and now brings his family here, with his own kids. There are also many other former employees who became members of the healthcare field, engineers, lawyers, police officers, and firefighters. It's special to watch them grow up, just like my own kids. It's like my old friend said all those years ago; this is a place to raise a family and find a community, and that came true for us."

family photo
Mai Lan with her children in Orchid, 2023

With Statesboro experiencing rapid growth, Mai Lan expressed gratitude for being a pivotal part of the evolving and expanding food scene within the community, and for the years of support.

“I’m thankful that my passion and focus on family and my roots could positively influence my children," she said. "That’s one of Jenny’s dreams, to eventually open a traditional Vietnamese restaurant. I always say to her my advice is to work hard and learn for experience.” 

When asked if she plans to help Jenny in the future, Mai Lan smiled and said, “I hope I am able to help her with that. Yes, it would be very nice for me. Even now, when Jenny returns home to visit, all we do is practice cooking together. It has become something special we do together, and I hope that will continue.”

Jenny at Orchid
Jenny, Mai Lan's daughter, serving in Orchid, 2023

As for parting words to share with the people of Statesboro, Mai Lan expressed, “Statesboro, you have been so good to me for almost three decades. I am really grateful for your support throughout all of these years. You all are the ones who created our success and the success of the individuals who worked here. I have built many relationships with you all and I will miss seeing all of you”. 

Despite the change in ownership at Orchid, the restaurant plans to remain a staple in the community. The new owner, Jessie Li, is from Richmond Hill and brings over 15 years of business experience.

Mai Lan notes, “Some things will change, absolutely, but I’m sure they’ll keep some items, like the classic chicken pho and pineapple rice dish.”

The ownership change is set to take place with the arrival of the new year in January 2024.

Orchid’s last day open under the current ownership will be on December 22nd. Mai Lan plans to express her gratitude to the community with a special gift for customers during their last week. She mentioned Statesboro can expect something like free appetizers, such as spring rolls or dumplings, available throughout the week of December 18 - 22, open from 11 am to 8 pm. You can honor Mai Lan and her time here in Statesboro by ordering her favorite dish – the Vietnamese Pho. 

“I learned this from my mom: to be successful, you have to be grateful for what you have. And when you receive, and you’re grateful, you have to give back. That’s the only way to truly be.”

Orchid Staff Photo 2023
Orchid Staff Photo, 2023