Sacramento Is Eating Them Up

Trinh Le was preparing for life as a firefighter when his wife and fellow Sacramento State alum, Minnie Nguyen, suggested an alternate career path.

“She said, ‘I like food. I don’t have a culinary background, but I know what food should look like and taste like. Why don’t we just open a restaurant?’ ” Le recalls. “And I said, ‘OK.’ That was it.” 

Their restaurant, Firehouse Crawfish in south Sacramento, opened in 2011, struggling for three years before finally breaking through. Le and Nguyen now oversee five locations and close to 150 employees.

Their success is emblematic of two major Sacramento trends: The city’s food scene is growing fast—and Sacramento State alums are significant players in turning the region into a premier culinary destination.

The pitch by Minnie Nguyen ’07 (Social Science) to her husband didn’t come out of the blue: Growing up in a large Asian family, she was used to helping her mother in the kitchen and recalls joining her family and friends at massive crawfish dinner parties.

“I’ve always been a foodie, and I’m critiquing food everywhere I go,” she says. “I just wanted to create something that I would eat, and I believed that the people would enjoy it, too.”

She developed the original recipes for Firehouse Crawfish and is head chef there, at Station 16 Seafood Restaurant & Bar, Station 38 Coffee, and the new Station 8 at the Bank—the names all nods to Trinh Le’s would-be firefighting career.

Nguyen focuses on the big picture – new menu ideas, concepts for new restaurants—and Le ’09 (Marketing) puts those ideas into action, drawing upon business acumen he began developing at Sacramento State.

“There’s nothing like working in the restaurant business. No college, not Harvard, Stanford or Yale, can teach you how to operate a restaurant,” Le says. “But Sacramento State gave me a great foundation, numbers-wise. How to think differently. How to be creative.”


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