Saigon Sisters' Theresa Nguyen, Mama Suu and Mary Nguyen Aregoni.

Saigon Sisters' Theresa Nguyen, Mama Suu and Mary Nguyen Aregoni.

Mary Nguyen Aregoni, founder and CEO of Saigon Sisters, has always been inspired by her past. She was a baby when her family moved to Laos to escape the dangers of the war in their homeland of Vietnam. They left everything behind in search of freedom, even living in a refugee camp in Thailand for two years before immigrating to the U.S in 1975.

Their search for freedom, along with determination, courage and ingenuity, paid off in 2009 when Mary and her sister, Theresa Nguyen, developed the name Saigon Sisters and an idea to sell Vietnamese spring rolls at farmer’s markets. Their concept, one of the first chosen by the Chicago French Market, was to sell Vietnamese Banh mi sandwiches out of a 200-square-foot kiosk.

From this humble beginning, the Saigon Sisters restaurant chain expanded into three locations: a full-service restaurant in the West Loop; a quick-service restaurant inside Northwestern Memorial Hospital; and a new storefront called Bang Chop Thai Kitchen, with more locations in the works.

“When we came to the U.S. in 1975, we were refugees and didn’t know a word of English,” Mary said. “We were able to get a good start with free education and jobs for my parents with the help of our sponsors and community ... I want to help connect displaced families to communities that will sponsor and help them get established quickly and help start their new life off on the right foot as my family did.”

In addition to her mom and grandma, Mary has been inspired by Chef Rick Bayless and his wife Deann for their “passion, love of hospitality and the care and respect they give their staff.” (

Below is Mary’s favorite marinade recipe, “the best marinade you will ever need,” which she says is perfect for grilling any meats and seafood.

Mary’s Favorite Saigon Sisters’ Marinade

 • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped


• 2 tablespoons of minced garlic

• 2 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger

• 1 tablespoon of sesame oil

• 1/4 cup hot water

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

• 1 tablespoon of fish sauce

• 2 tablespoons of soy sauce

• 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper

• 1/2 teaspoon of salt

1) Dissolve sugar in hot water. Let cool.

2) Add the rest of the ingredients

and mix well.

3) Pour marinade over meats, seafood or

vegetables and keep refrigerated for at

least 30 minutes or overnight.

4) Leave the lemongrass, garlic and ginger

on the proteins for more flavors —

don’t wipe them off before cooking.

The marinade can be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for one week.

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