Chris Dion escaped from Vietnam on a small boat at age 7, along with his mother, brother and uncle. It was 1980, and what followed was a story of uncertainty, hardship and fear, not knowing what would come next before they finally arrived in the United States in 1984.
"It was a long journey to get where I am now," Dion said.
He told of being robbed, getting onto a larger boat moments before the little boat they escaped on sank, and island hopping before ending up in a refugee camp.
This journey eventually brought him here, opening the Vietnamese business Motif Ultra Lounge and Restaurant.
Chef Dion, who learned how to cook from his mother, is ready to introduce the cuisine to those unfamiliar with it and satisfy those already in the know.
On Sunday, Dion was found rolling fish rolls at a table, preparing for a local business open house he and his fiancee, Teresa Nguyen held that afternoon. When asked about the ingredients for the rolls, he named a few, but quickly got protective, safeguarding his family secrets.
"All you need to know is it's good," Dion said with a smile as he rolled another fish roll.
The Ashland location is the second restaurant for Dion and his fiancée, Teresa Nguyen; the first opened in 2007 in San Jose, Calif., and is run by Dion's brother.
Dion said the Ashland location's menu is a bit different than the California one, offering more traditional Vietnamese fare. Since Dion believes many may be unfamiliar with Vietnamese food, he plans to "introduce different foods slowly so people have a chance to get used to it."
Motif actually opened quietly last Wednesday, in anticipation of working out the bugs and getting the staff familiar with the menu. It was a move that proved to be worthwhile.
"Since Vietnamese is different, and the staff is all new, this gave them a chance to become familiar with it, without being slammed," Dion said. "It was a chance to get everyone's feet wet."
The quiet opening worked out especially well when the point of sale computer system went down, causing Dion to spend the night at the restaurant to work out the bugs.
The couple first became aware of Ashland through a business Web site which aids potential business owners with sites that offer opportunities to open. The decision to open here is one Dion and Nguyen are happy with.
"We came to Ashland and scoped it out," Dion said, "and we really liked it."
The menu at Motif offers traditional soups, salads, appetizers and entrees, including a roasted quail appetizer with a spicy tamarind/mango sauce. Many familiar items, such as chicken, beef, tofu, prawns and scallops can be found on the menu, each prepared in a special Vietnamese way. The menu especially lends itself well to vegetarians, and has a nice noodle section to go with it. Throughout the menu there are suggested wine pairings for the different dishes.
After dinner, Motif transforms into a nightclub, with live music, deejays and dancing, with the restaurant's two bars turning out special house creations. Of note are the mango, coconut or ginger mojitos, which add even more tropical flair to the Cuban cocktail classic. Another unique creation is the jack-a-tini, made from Asian jackfruit.
Dion believes his Vietnamese menu is definitely worth a try.
"I really hope everyone will come down and give it a try," Dion said. "I hope they like my food and come back."
Motif Ultra Lounge and Restaurant occupies the former Kat Wok space on East Main Street, next to Macaroni's. The restaurant serves lunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner from 4 to 10 p.m., and nightclub from 10 p.m. 2:30 p.m.