Distinct smells of New York City streets include roasted chestnuts, hot dogs and pretzels. Those smells are wafting their way down the coast and onto D.C. sidewalks. Street vendors are on almost every corner, with several situated on the heart of GW’s campus.
Whether running between classes or taking a study break, GW students are loyal patrons of the Suong Xuan Le’s vendor cart in front of Gelman Library.
Le’s family has operated the business for the past 24 years on GW’s campus. Le, who also owns an investment realty corporation, said he has memories of his first days in the vending business.
“When I first started the business, mine was the only vendor here,” Le said. “This vending business is the oldest one in the area, and now there are many more that operate here.”
He and his wife mainly operate the cart, and one of their daughters helps out from time to time. Le works mornings seven days a week, and his wife takes the afternoon shift. Le said his family has enjoyed working at GW.
“I love all the students around here,” Le said. “I enjoy serving young people. I also have found the GW employees to be such nice, friendly people.”
Although Le would not disclose how much food he sells each day, he said cooked foods like egg rolls, hot dogs and pretzels are the most popular. Le attributes his success to his family’s dedication to providing the freshest and cleanest food.
“We work hard to provide excellent food,” he said. “I think that’s what the customers like most about my business. They like the way the food tastes and the fact that it is served in a very clean manner.”
Customers seem to agree that they always get good food and service from Le.
“I love coming here after studying in the library,” sophomore Julia Jakubowski said. “I always come to this particular vendor. I’ve never had something I didn’t like here.”
Le said that he and his wife have regular customers. He said that this is one of the best parts of the business.
“I always see familiar faces,” Le said. “My wife knows each and every customer. She even knows what they want – how much ketchup and mustard, whether they want cream and sugar in their coffee. Sometimes I don’t know because my memory isn’t that good, but my wife always remembers. My wife is always happy and smiling. I think customers like that.”
Many of the prices have not changed in years. Hot dogs, which started at $1 when Le first opened, are still $1. Le said prices are not the most important thing to him.
“Prices don’t matter to me that much,” Le said. “It’s being good to customers. Being nice to the students and other customers that come here is what’s more important than price.”
Students said they appreciate the friendly service they get from Le and his wife.
“There has never been a time when I have come here that I have not been treated with the best service,” sophomore Victoria Ludas said. “I always come here and will definitely continue to do so.”
Le said that he feels customers are not just customers, but friends too.
“Customers become my friends,” Le said. “I make new friends every year doing this. That’s the best part of this job. I even have people who come back and visit me years after they graduate.”