Community, Tennis and Family: Vy Banh
To her tennis friends and those in the Lancaster community, Vy Banh is known for a lot of things.
· Great teammate.
· Generous volunteer.
· Successful businesswoman.
· Really, really, really great cook.
In recent months, people around the Lancaster area have especially recognized Banh and her family for their giving nature.
Through their popular restaurants, Rice and Noodles and Sprout of Rice and Noodles, she and her family have donated food to hospital workers, patients, police officers and others on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
But even to those who know Banh well, few know of her journey.
Banh’s story begins in Vietnam, where she was the last in her family born before the fall of Saigon in 1975. That led to her family — prominent restaurant owners in Vietnam at the time — fleeing to the United States.
“I was only a few months old when my whole family decided to seek refuge,” she said. “My mom packed two suitcases: one with formula for me and my brother, and one with photos and whatever important family items she could salvage.”
They had that, and $13.
After a brief stop at a camp in Arkansas, the family ended up in Lancaster, where they moved in with one of her aunts. A new start brought plenty of difficulty, but it didn’t keep Banh’s family down. They eventually heard about the fishing communities and Vietnamese culture in the south, and settled in Mississippi. There, Banh’s mother commuted into New Orleans to sell food at a flea market each day.
That led to Banh’s mother opening a restaurant in the city.
“From what I understand she had the first Vietnamese, female-owned restaurant in New Orleans,” Banh said.
Years went by and the business grew. Banh became more involved in the business, and another restaurant opened. Two then grew to three. Eventually, she and her family owned and operated four restaurants, with plans for a fifth. Things were great. That’s when they heard about Hurricane Katrina.
“We were there from 1982 to 2005 and went through many hurricanes,” she said. “There were many evacuations, and with Hurricane Katrina It seemed no different. We went to Houston. I did some shopping. We didn’t think a whole lot of it.”
They quickly realized that this was different. The devastation of Katrina was historic and destroyed everything Banh and her family had built. The restaurants weren’t coming back, and they found themselves back in Lancaster.
“We were on top of the world to zero income in one day,” Banh said. “We had to figure something out.”
It was time to rebuild again. Banh and her husband, Ninh, along with the rest of their family, pooled money together to open another restaurant. In July, 2006, Rice and Noodles in Lancaster, Pa. opened.
“We had one more chance and we had to make it work,” she said. “Luckly we did.”
Fast forward nearly 15 years: Rice and Noodles is one of the top spots in Lancaster. It even has a second restaurant, Sprout of Rice and Noodles, which opened as their food’s popularity grew.
Banh rarely goes a minute without mentioning her family.
“Nothing we do is alone,” she said.
As the business grew in recent years, Banh created new goals. That’s where tennis comes in.
She had been a standout high school player and a walk-on at the University of New Orleans, but hadn’t picked up a racquet in more than two decades. Some friends suggested Hempfield recCenter in Landisville, and Banh added it to her New Year’s resolutions. And like everything she does, Banh was all-in.
“I think I called Hempfield 10 times asking questions,” she laughed. “I was asking which clinic to take and which pro to meet with. I was trying to build my courage up. I didn’t know where I stood or how it would go.”
She showed up for a clinic run by Wilson Pipkin, Hempfield’s Director of Tennis.
“The rest is history,” she said. “We clicked right away. I’m very grateful that I met Wilson. He just makes tennis so fun. I couldn’t wait to get to the next day to play more.”
“My timing was a little bit off in that first lesson,” she added with a laugh. “But as soon as I hit that backhand, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this so much.’ I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Pipkin remembers her first lesson well.
“I think she hit the back net about 90 percent of the time,” he laughed. “But right away, you could tell she just had to be involved. She’s really a good player and is just a lot of fun to have on the court.”
Banh is now a self-described tennis nut. She plays USTA League Tennis, practices as much as she can and even volunteers in the sport. Since January 2019, she has served on the USTA Middle States Board of Directors, helping to grow tennis from behind the scenes.
“I love the game. I love everything about it,” she said. “It’s my stress relief and my total escape. There is nothing like hitting that ball.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Banh has focused on keeping her business in. She said she can’t wait to get back to tennis when the time is right, but in the meantime, is doing everything she can to give back by working with local businesses and individuals who are coming together for the greater good.
“I feel lucky to be in the position we're in now, and to have the ability to give back even a little bit,” she said. “We’ve been through devastation before, in a really different way. Back then, we came out of it with nothing. Through this, we still have a lot to build from.”
“When this is all over, I can’t wait to get back out and play some tennis.”
Check out our video feature on Vy by clicking here.