Hudgins’ and her kids spend a lot of time on their backyard dock, where the kids like to fish with their grandpa and neighborhood friends. | Photos by Samantha Connors

Little Miss Ha owner Janice Hudgins didn’t cook much Vietnamese food before opening her restaurant on Houston Northcutt Blvd. in Mount Pleasant. 

“My mom lives 20 minutes away, and as a Vietnamese mother, she just makes food for us all the time,” Hudgins said. “So, it was like, well why do I need to cook Vietnamese food? Mom makes it even better.” 

But after moving back to Charleston from Atlanta in 2009, Hudgins began exploring new career options. She worked in sales and real estate before becoming a stay-at-home mom after having four children with her husband, Johnny. 

While investigating potential job opportunities after a decade-long stint as a caregiver, Hudgins began posting photos of Food Network chef-inspired meals on Facebook. And people (metaphorically) ate it up. 

So at the request of friends and acquaintances, Hudgins began doing private dinners and catering events in 2016, serving her mom’s Vietnamese food.

“It was hard because she doesn’t write down recipes,” Hudgins said. “The only time we really spent cooking in the kitchen together when I was little was rolling egg rolls. We used to roll egg rolls for a local caterer in Moncks Corner, and he would order hundreds from us in one week. So we had an assembly line of mom making the filling, I would roll the eggrolls, and my brother Ryan, who’s my executive chef now, would peel all the eggroll wrappers. That was his only job because he was only 5 or 6 years old.”

When the demand for private dinners increased, Hudgins had to get in the kitchen with her mom and learn how to master her recipes. And she put them down in writing. 

“She goes by taste, smell and sight. Not by recipes. So she was trying to teach us that’s how you cook,” Hudgins said. “I still go by recipes, but a lot of it now is intuitive and I can pull those senses. But the biggest learning curve was just trying to take her recipes and put it in a recipe format.”

A living inspiration inspires a nickname

“Mom is the inspiration for all of us, not only with the restaurant, but just how everyone should live,” Hudgins said. “She is Miss Ha and when I started doing her recipes for the private events and catering, I just called myself Little Miss Ha.”

After dabbling in private events, Hudgins’ family was invited by Michael Shemtov to do the first pop-up dinner series at the original Butcher & Bee at 654 King Street with Miss Ha doing a majority of the cooking. The family continued the pop-ups for about a year. 

In 2018, Shemtov, a longtime Hudgins family friend, approached the couple about renting a booth in the now-closed Workshop space on King Street Extension. Johnny Hudgins’ worked with Shemtov to open the former Mellow Mushroom on King Street and three other Mellow Mushrooms in the area. With his restaurant experience and Miss Ha’s recipes, the couple decided to go for it.

When the King Street Mellow Mushroom closed in 2020, Johnny temporarily moved this custom painting, which he commissioned James Christopher Hill to create, into the Hudgins’ home. View more of Hill’s work here.

Little Miss Ha’s booth in Workshop took off, and the couple decided in 2019 to start their own full-blown restaurant in Mount Pleasant where they knew a lot of their customers were based. 

Just five weeks after opening the doors to Little Miss Ha, the pandemic forced shutdowns across the nation. The Hudgins family had to find a way to pivot the business by doing things like delivery service. Now they’re finally getting back into a normal groove and hope to expand the business by offering products like their homemade broths and sauces. 

Coming to America

Janice Hudgins’ parents immigrated to Moncks Corner from Vietnam with her two older brothers in 1979. Hudgins and her younger brother Ryan are both first generation Vietnamese-Americans born and raised in Moncks Corner.

Hudgins pointed out that although the Charleston area doesn’t have a large Vietnamese community, her family had the support of other relatives that already lived here, including aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Hudgins’ parents (pictured on her wedding day) help care for their four grandchildren.

“We always gathered at our house every single Saturday and mom would make a main dish like pho or bún bò huê´,” she recalled.  “Then all of the aunts would bring in a specialty dish that they loved to make. 

“The way it is with a lot of Asian cultures, we’re not very verbal with how we express love and care, but the way we show how much we love or care about you is we’ll work for hours on that special dish that we know that you want.”

Family support was a huge aspect of her life, and that still rings true to this day. Little Miss Ha is closed on Sundays to allow for family time. During the day, the kids get to decide on a family activity like watching a movie on their porch, going to the beach or just spending a couple of hours at Barnes & Noble.

Sunday nights are for family dinners, where there might be anywhere from six people (Hudgins, her husband, her parents and the kids) to 10 or more if her brother or friends come by. “It’s always an open door,” she said. “Sometimes the neighbors are over. People pop in all of the time because we value it so much.”

The Hudgins family (and their dog Margot) gather on their screened-in porch for movie nights (above).

Both of Hudgins’ parents help out with taking care of their four grandchildren, whether it’s Miss Ha making dinner for the kids four nights a week, even after getting off work at 7 p.m., or her dad shuttling the kids around from school to ballet practice and anywhere in between. 

“Growing up, it was always all about taking care of your family,” Hudgins said. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”

And as a way of giving back, Hudgins has a special goal in mind for her mom, who got her nickname Miss Ha while working at the former Piggly Wiggly on Meeting Street downtown. 

“That was her very first job,” said Hudgins. “Her name is Thu-Ha, but they couldn’t pronounce her name, so everyone called her Miss Ha. And I don’t think she would have ever thought when she was ringing in groceries every single day that one day she would have a scannable product that would be hers. That is the goal — to have her products, her food, packaged up to share across the country.

She is the heart of why we all do what we do.”

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.