Gal About Town: Mary Nguyen

She’s been the chef behind some of Denver’s most delicious dishes for 20 years. Her brand and reputation for elevated and convenient dining have been a mainstay in Cherry Creek for the past seven years. Meet Mary Nguyen, who has pioneered the high-end counter service/fast-casual concept with Olive & Finch. As our latest Gal About Town, Nguyen walks us through her untraditional jump into the restaurant world, what inspires her, the last song she sang while driving, her five dream dinner guests, and her favorite city to have fun in – especially for food!

How did you get into the restaurant industry, and what inspires your craft? Growing up in a large traditional Vietnamese family where food was the center of everything, I developed a deep appreciation for the power of a delicious meal to bring people together. However, my start in the restaurant industry is an unusual one. I started my career in finance, working in Public Finance and as a commodities trader, but I was always tinkering around in the kitchen, fascinated with different ingredients and obsessed with hosting elaborate dinner parties. This obsession became a passion, and I was determined to open my own restaurant one day. I quit finance to pursue my dream and 20 years later, I haven’t looked back. I’m inspired every day with the privilege and opportunity I have to create experiences that bring people together – small experiences that bring so much joy to others. There’s something magical about the way food can evoke memories, spark conversations, and foster connections. That’s what inspires me every day—to serve great food, but also create unforgettable moments for those who share them.

What’s something about your industry that most people wouldn’t know? While the restaurant industry may seem glamorous from the outside, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Behind the scenes, we work long days, often sacrificing personal time to ensure everything runs smoothly. Moreover, the margins in this industry are notoriously thin, making it a constant struggle to balance quality, affordability, and sustainability.

For those not familiar, what’s the menu like at Olive & Finch? Olive & Finch is a “fine-casual” eatery, blending the chef-crafted quality and ingredients of a fine-dining kitchen with the convenience of a fast-casual café. From familiar favorites to globally influenced flavors, everything is made 100% from scratch with real, whole ingredients. While we offer an all-day menu spanning breakfast, lunch and entree options, we also have an expansive pastry counter. In addition, we have a full bar with a robust coffee program, serving Intelligentsia caffeinated drinks, as well as a cocktail, beer and wine menu that lends itself to a hopping happy hour after 3 p.m. The breakfast menu spans simple yet satisfying options like breakfast sandwiches and burritos, to eggs benedict and pancakes. At lunch and dinner, you’ll find a variety of carefully crafted sandwiches, salads, burgers, bowls, pastas and entrees – such as half roasted chicken and steak. We are proud to offer allergy-conscious options and a variety of vegetarian dishes too. Our goal is to provide a welcoming, affordable dining experience where everyone can find something delicious to enjoy. Part café, part restaurant, part workspace, part community center, we are the fabled “third place” between work and home.

What’s new with Olive & Finch? After paring our hours during COVID, we’re reviving our dinner service to bring back the joy of evening dining. Starting this May, we’ll be extending our hours until 9 p.m. daily, with a fantastic happy hour from 3-6 pm. to kick things off right. We’re also refreshing and expanding our menu from comforting classics like flat iron steak and pastas, to shareable options like flatbreads. And true to our commitment to affordability, nothing on our menu will be over $20. In addition to our revamped menu, we’re looking forward to hosting special events like BBQs on the patio, wine and spirit community dinners, and creating unforgettable experiences for our guests.

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self? Be bold, be courageous, and never underestimate the power of your goals.

What’s the last book you read? Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Sometimes I need a good dose of Cheryl’s honesty and wisdom.

What are three things you can’t live without?

1. My iPhone, even though I seem to lose it every day.

2. My daily matcha latte, shade-grown in Japan.

3. I’m pretty old school and work best when I am working with physical documents – so paper is really important to me. I organize myself by writing on paper with an actual pen (preferably blue). I definitely will not go to the grocery store without a list written on … you guessed it, paper!

What’s the last song you sang to in your car? I have 9-year-old twins, so it was definitely Taylor Swift’s “Anti Hero.”

Besides Olive & Finch, what are your go-to Cherry Creek haunts? Drinks with friends at Local Jones, family interactive dining night at Gyu-Kaku, flowers from Bloom by Anuschka, dinner at Narrative, grilled artichokes at Hillstone, Chicken parm pizza at Quality Italian, weekend brunch at Toro, and a weekly stretch at StretchLab.

What’s your favorite way to relax? Connecting with friends and family over a shared meal or a couple of cocktails.

Who are your five dream dinner guests and what are you eating?

1. Chef Jean Georges: Soy-braised lamb shanks – the perfect fusion of French and Asian flavors

2. Ali Wong: Beef for sure!

3. Roger Federer: Fondue – we can bond over raising twins and my husband’s Swiss heritage

4. Ruth Reichl: Spaghetti and meatball recipe from Gourmet, her favorite all-time recipe

5. Ho Chi Minh: A steaming bowl of Pho

What city in the world have you had the most fun in? Tokyo – it’s magical for food-lovers


Featured image courtesy of Eat Denver