Flowers of Vietnam, a Vietnamese-inspired diner located in Vernor Coney Island in southwest Detroit, is not your typical Vietnamese restaurant. Its cozy atmosphere, aided by the size of the venue, the staff and the light thump of electronic music playing in the background, only helps to distinguish itself from other Vietnamese restaurants.
Popular on the menu is the caramel chicken wings. The crispy, sweet chicken dish is one that’s easy to call a favorite. Aside from the wings, Flowers’ menu lists its items in Vietnamese, presenting a description below each item in English. Items containing meat or fish also offer a tofu option.
On July 16, Flowers of Vietnam, helmed by one George Azar, launched a program to incentivize police officers and civilians alike dining with one another. Their reward for choosing to dine together, aside from gaining valuable insight on one another? A free meal.
That’s right, as of two weekends ago, if a civilian(s) and a police officer(s) choose to share a meal together at Flowers of Vietnam, both parties will have their bill comped. Azar notes that there is a pre-assembled list of items that qualify for this promotion and that officers need to be in uniform to qualify.
“I’m fully aware of the mechanics and logistics of police authority or just how their job works,” says Azar. “Through the years, I’ve noticed this issue…there’s a culture, right? Certain communities have cultures and we communicate in ways where, if you weren’t really from the same origins, you wouldn’t be able to identify the communication.”
Azar says that police departments staffing officers that aren’t from the communities they are policing leads to breakdowns in communication between the officers and those they are sworn to protect. That is why he, after getting the idea at four-thirty in the morning, decided to incentivize civilians and police officers sharing a meal together by letting them eat for free at his restaurant.
But, why offer a free meal? It wasn’t just because he runs the twice-weekly (Saturdays and Sundays) eatery on Vernor Highway.
“We all eat, right? We all share food sensations,” Azar says. “Sharing a meal is deeply embedded in every culture. I don’t know of a culture on this planet that doesn’t recognize gestures of hospitality. So, if you put two parties in an identifiable environment to where there’s one thing to make both of them understand, that starts some safe ground for dialogue.”
So, with a chance to dine in a place like Flowers of Vietnam while gaining valuable insight from both sides of law enforcement (the police and civilians), what do you have to lose?