It's just after 2 p.m., and Kevan Tran is zooming between greeting customers at the front counter and preparing food in the kitchen of his restaurant, Penn Lake Roast Beef in Bloomington.
The lunch rush may finally be slowing, but he’s hardly done filling orders for the day. Since reopening last week after a three-month closure to recover from being shot during an attempted robbery, a steady flow of customers have visited the restaurant, sometimes queuing down the sidewalk.
And though his shoulders ache at the end of the night, he says he's overjoyed to be serving his customers again.
"No matter how tired, I still smile," he said. "I treat my customers as friends, that's why they come back to me ... I want to say thank you to everybody for supporting. I will do my best to serve everybody."
He sold out of roast beef on his first day back to business, so he doubled his supply for the next day. Still, he sold out again, and then again on his third day.
Tran, 58, says he he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his mother, who ran a restaurant in Vietnam, where he grew up. He was in his late 20s when he immigrated to the United States in 1988. Shortly afterwards, he started working at longtime Bloomington staple Wally's Roast Beef, mastering his craft until he opened Penn Lake Roast Beef in 2011.
His shop quickly became a beloved go-to for roast beef sandwiches and other Chinese comfort food. The walls are adorned with decorations handpicked by Tran to celebrate his family's Chinese heritage.
"I couldn't change myself, no matter how long I live here. I couldn't change my faith, I couldn't change my color," he said.
Several family members have been working shifts to help with the rush since the reopening last week — some of them for the first time, including his 28-year-old niece Jackie Quach, who usually works as a teacher.
Growing up, she never thought she would work there, though her uncle always made sure she knew it was an option.
"I’d stop by for lunch, and he’d always be like, hey, you ever need another job?” she said, laughing. "My cousins and I were doing our own thing, we didn't know what it meant to run a business."
But after the shooting, she jumped into her own role. She took over his social media page and organized a GoFundMe that raised over $60,000. When the business finally reopened, she started working the counter during lunch hours at her uncle's request.
"I was like, OK, here, his wish came true," she said.
Shortly after the shooting, neighboring business United Liquors hosted a “Kevan Day,” raising close to $10,000 by donating 10% of its proceeds and extra funds from donation buckets. Several other shops held similar fundraisers.
“It was the biggest day we’ve had in probably a couple years. It was huge,” said United Liquors owner Dan Condon.
Mark Hultgren, who owns STB Screen Printing, teamed up with his friend Joe Sorenson to sell Penn Lake Roast Beef-themed T-shirts for Kevan. Together, they raised over $6,000 in proceeds from several hundred customers.
“Bloomington is a big city; they’re really standing behind him,” said Hultgren, who previously owned the Burger King down the street from Penn Lake for decades. “We haven't had a shooting in a restaurant like this — I don't know when or if we have. I was robbed at Burger King three times, but never at gunpoint.”
The day of the shooting, Tran was near the back of the dining area, just getting ready to close up shop, when he heard the customer service bell ring, a nearby business manager said he told them. He came towards the front counter, and not seeing anyone, locked the door. It turned out that the young gunman had already entered the store, hiding in the kitchen located directly behind the counter, according to the criminal complaint.
Video surveillance shows two young men swinging through the kitchen doors and approaching the counter as Tran was counting his till, appearing to catch him off guard. After a short exchange, the suspect, identified as 20-year-old Devon Glover, of St. Paul, drew his gun and pointed it at Tran, who stepped towards them, thinking it was a fake gun, he later told police. Glover is then accused of shooting Tran in the abdomen and hand, causing him to fall behind the cash register.
Afterwards, Glover grabbed an "unknown amount of cash" and left out the back door. Meanwhile, a second suspect, identified as 19-year-old Marshawn Davison, is seen running toward the back of the restaurant, then running again toward the counter and trying to look over before fleeing, according to the criminal complaint.
Both have been charged with first-degree attempted murder in Hennepin County Court.
After the shooting, Tran got up from behind the counter, unlocked his front door and ran to United Liquors two storefronts down.
“He saved his own life, that’s what he did,” said the manager at United Liquors, who tried to stop the bleeding and prevent Tran from going into shock until the ambulance came. “I keep telling him, Kevan, if you had not gotten out from behind that counter, no one would have seen you or known what happened.”
Penn Lake Roast Beef, Instant Replay Sports, United Liquors and Bruce’s Barber Shop are all neighbors at the strip mall located near West 90th Street and Penn Avenue south.
“It’s just like we’re a family, really. We all watch out for each other,” added the United Liquors manager, who requested anonymity because of the nature of the crime.
Twenty-year-old Bloomington resident Buddy Michaelson, who says he's been a fan of the restaurant since childhood, has been making and selling face masks to support Penn Lake Roast Beef.
“The whole community likes visiting him. He’s a very hardworking guy and very family oriented,” he said. “It’s nice to see Bloomington kind of turn around the other way, be Bloomington family, and take care of him and see how he’s doing."
The three-month closure was the longest Tran had ever been away from the business. When he got well enough, he and his family hosted visiting hours at the restaurant in the weeks leading up to the re-opening.
"I wanted to open as soon as possible," he said. "My doctors said, take care of yourself first, then take care of your customers."
Usually, Tran's approach is just the opposite, Quach said.
“He’s just so hardworking, he works for a lot of people the majority of his life. He loves being a business owner ... for him, it’s about the community,” she said.
She added: "It wasn’t just my uncle that got shot. It was like the community got shot. We were shook."