‘The crime killed us’: Oakland’s Le Cheval restaurant closing after 38 years

‘The crime killed us’: Oakland’s Le Cheval restaurant closing after 38 years

Oakland’s legendary Le Cheval, a Vietnamese fine-dining institution for 38 years, will be shutting its doors at the end of the month.

Business is down sharply at the family-run restaurant at Tenth and Clay streets, according to Son Tran, and it’s not a post-pandemic problem of too many local employees still working from home.

“The lack of office workers did not kill us,” Tran told KPIX. “The crime, the criminals killed us.”

The restaurant has been hit by burglars, he said, but the impact on customers has been worse.

“Even right in front of the restaurant, their car is still broken into. And they’re really mad.  And they told me, ‘Son, I love your restaurant. I love your food. I love your family, but I cannot come back to Oakland. A $30 meal becomes $500 something.’ ”

According to Bay Area News Group archives, Le Cheval first opened in 1985 on Jefferson Street. The family had arrived in 1975 via an airlift from Vietnam, Son Tran said. His father, My Ngoc Tran, worked for Bank of America in Saigon so he was able to find work at the bank in the United States. But four months after the family settled in Oakland, he died. His wife, Tuyet Bui, was a single mother of seven children in a country whose language she barely knew. She worked two jobs to support the family: as a seamstress for the North Face outdoor clothing company and as an assembler of electronics for Xerox.

When Xerox laid her off, Bui decided to open a restaurant. She named it Le Cheval because Son Tran was born in 1954, the year of the horse in the Chinese zodiac.

The matriarch reigned over the kitchen — then on Clay Street — and taught her five sons, two daughters and grandchildren about Vietnamese cooking. She retired in 1997.

Over the years, Oakland’s political and business elite charted the city’s future while dining on shrimp rolls, plates of lemongrass chicken and steaming bowls of soup. Jerry Brown made Le Cheval a regular destination when he was Oakland’s mayor, before his second stint as governor.

Le Cheval closed briefly in 2013 over a lease dispute, prompting Son Tran to declare “the end of an era.”

This time, the era ends Saturday, Sept. 30.

Details: 1007 Clay St., Oakland; www.lecheval.co