A Tribute To The Culinary Pioneers Who Shaped Vietnam’s Food And Drink Industry

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Here's a list of the pioneering gentlemen who laid out the groundwork and set the standards for the food and drink industry in Vietnam. By Jovel Eugenia Chan.

Up till less than a decade ago, foreigners in Vietnam were not allowed to own private enterprises. This meant owning a restaurant or bar in Saigon was quite the feat which necessitated meandering through grey areas of government rules, regulation and red tape. While many laud the culinary achievements of Vietnam today (placing #39 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants as well as three bars included in the top 100 Asia’s 50 Best Bars list), many of them would not have been made possible without this acclaimed list of pioneering gentlemen who laid out the groundwork and set the standards for the food and drink industry.

By highlighting these gentlemen, I hope to not only recognise their achievements but also pay tribute to their contributions and milestones that inspired and motivated many restaurateurs, chefs, baristas, bartenders and even master distillers to where they are today. As we look forward and push ahead in our tireless pursuit of establishing Vietnam as a leading dining capital in Asia, let us not forget to look back and remember those who made it easier and possible. So, this article goes out to all the fathers and the gentlemen in this article who gave birth to a generation of up-and-coming culinarians and epicureans in Vietnam. Happy Fathers Day, thank you for all that you have done and continue to do.

SPEARHEADING SAIGON’S FINE DINING FOOD SCENE
Sakal Phoeung, Chef & Owner Of Le Corto & Pt’i Saigon; President Escoffier Vietnam, MaîTres Cuisiniers De France


Chef Sakal arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012 and was one of the first chefs to spearhead the gourmet and epicurean culinary scene in Vietnam. He arrived in Saigon after leading the opening of Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra to helm the kitchen as Executive Chef of Sofitel Plaza Saigon, one of the first international luxury hotel chains in Vietnam.
Armed with 22 years of experience working for international luxury hotel chains and restaurants in China and Cambodia as well as a history of culinary stints in Europe at Michelin-starred restaurants and a myriad of Relais and Châteaux (a collection of gourmet restaurants, boutique hotels, resorts and villas. Chef Sakal opened his first restaurant Le Corto in 2016 followed by P’ti Saigon. During his time in Vietnam, Sakal has had the pleasure of cooking for notable figures such as the French President François Hollande and is also the President of les Disciples d’Escoffier Vietnam, a non-profit association created in Nice in 1954 (France) dedicated to the culinary arts and the transmission of knowledge and classic French cuisine.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
My mother who is currently living in France.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Didier Corlou who did a lot for Vietnamese cuisine and owns his own restaurant in Hanoi
• Chef Tung of TUNG Dining, I really like what he is doing and his cuisine is exceptional
• Chef Võ Thành Vương, my ex-Sous Chef who won Top Chef
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Be passionate about food, believe in yourself and near stop evolving and learning in this dynamic and ever-changing industry.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
My hope is for Vietnamese chefs and cuisine to gain more visibility globally. There are many new and talented chefs on the rise and they deserve more recognition.
LE CORTO
5D Nguyen Sieu Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1
Website: lecortovietnam.com
Facebook: LeCorto
P’TI SAIGON
52 Ngô Quang Huy Street, Thao Dien Ward, District 2
Facebook: ptisaigon

DEMOCRATISING AND REDEFINING MODERN VIETNAMESE CUISINE
Peter Cuong Franklin Chef-Founder Of Anan Saigon (#39 On Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, 2021)


Chef Peter Cuong Franklin, a Vietnamese-American Yale graduate, is the chef owner of Anan Saigon restaurant, Nhau Nhau cocktail bar & Pot Au Pho noodle bar, all located in Chợ Cũ, the oldest wet market in the center of bustling Saigon. He was an investment banker in New York, London and Hong Kong before following his passion to become a chef and restauranteur about ten years ago. Chef Peter ran two successful restaurants in Hong Kong before returning to Vietnam about five years ago to open Anan Saigon. The Harper Bazaar’s Chef of the Year also works with local charities such Saigon Children’s Charity, KOTO – Know One, Teach One and STREETS International, helping disadvantaged youths to gain a future in F&B. His restaurant Anan was recently voted No. 39 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021 and Chef Peter was included in Tatler Asia’s Most Influential Tastemakers List 2021.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
As a child, I grew up in Da Lat, Central Vietnam and was always surrounded by food since my mom ran a small noodle shop in the living room of the house. You can say that food is in my blood. My mother is the inspiration for my life and my cooking because she is an amazing woman and one the best cooks in the village. She cooks only a few dishes but is famous for her Mi Quang, Cha Lua and Nem Nuong.
THREE UP-AND-COMING CHEFS ON THE RISE
• Pastry Chef Kasey Doan at Ivoire
• Chef Thao Na from Lavelle Library
• Chef Tru Lang from MÙA in Hoi An.
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
My advice for young chefs and people who want to pursue a career as a chef is simple: follow your passion and cook the food that people love to eat. And most importantly: “No Bullshit.” This means cooking with honesty and respect and don’t BS yourself or the guests who eat the food.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
The Saigon dining scene has evolved significantly since I returned from Hong Kong to set up Anan Restaurant in 2016. I hope that Vietnam’s F&B industry will continue to develop in terms of quality, diversity and sophistication so that we can become one of the leading dining capitals of Asia.
ANAN RESTAURANT
Address: 89 Ton That Dam Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Website: anansaigon.com
Facebook: anansaigon

THE FATHER OF FLAME GRILLED CHICKEN AND CASUAL DINING CONCEPTS IN SAIGON
Asif Mehrudeen, Ceo Of Ahm Lifestyle (Chickita, Greyhound Cafe)

A chef by trade, Asif is an Aussie who moved to Bali in 2002 and has since called Asia home for the past 19 years. In 2009, Asif moved to Vietnam to helm the kitchen as Executive Chef at the Park Hyatt Saigon. After four years, Asif took a leap of faith and ventured into the world of casual dining restaurants and created some of the city’s most well-loved concepts including Sorae, San Fu Lou and Di Mai up till 2019 when he exited and founded AHM Lifestyles, which houses popular flame-grilled chicken concept, Chickita (four locations in Saigon) and Greyhound Cafe.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
Growing up in Melbourne, I was fortunate to have been exposed to different types of cuisine and culture. I was also very much inspired by my time in the kitchen cooking alongside a myriad of different chefs from different backgrounds and nationalities. It was so inspiring to learn about their culinary worlds and perspective. And of course, growing up with family and friends who enjoy food as much as I do!
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Elevated Vietnamese cuisine – I strongly believe we are going to see more talented local chefs explore different styles of regional unique culinary concepts, it’s already starting to happen and the world is watching.
• Vegan food – a new opportunity fast growing all around the world and becoming part of our new lifestyle choice
• Desserts – many Vietnamese have a sweet tooth and I’ve seen many new F&B concepts open up in the last 6 o 12 months but not many locally-inspired dessert concepts.
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Understand customer needs and source the best local produce as Vietnam is so rich in different types of ingredients where each month we keep discovering new things.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
To be a food and beverage hub in Southeast Asia by creating world class concepts. From my experience, a clear concept can become a destination and these concepts are what make our vibrant city so unique.
CHICKITA
Website: chickita.com.vn
Facebook: chickita.vn
Operating hours: 10am-10pm

THE FIRST OVERSEAS – VIETNAMESE CHEF/RESTAURANTEUR IN VIETNAM
Tristan Ngo, Chef-Founder Of Skewers And The Elbow Room


Tristan Ngo opened Skewers in 2000 and became the first overseas Vietnamese (Viet kieu) restaurateur and chef in Saigon. A self-trained chef, restaurateur, food writer and food presenter. Tristan grew up in Southern California and graduated from the University of San Francisco School with a degree in Business and Management. After experiencing a burnout at his corporate job at a brokerage firm, Tristan hit the road and travelled Europe in pursuit of food, travel and adventure before returning to Vietnam.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
“Everyday Cooking” with Jacque Pepin in 1982. He is such a joy to watch and introduced me to simple and unpretentious old school French dishes. “Yan Can Cook” with Martin Yan in 1984 was also one of my favourite TV shows to watch back then and it really inspired me because it was the first time I saw an Asian cooking on a Western channel. Last but not least, “The Mediterranean Kitchen” by Joyce Goldstein in 1990 changed my life and way of cooking.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Viet Hong – Monkey Gallery
• Adrian Chong – Sol Kitchen
• Tri & An – Nous
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Love what you do and do what you love. Be true to yourself, be passionate, resilient and stay humble and hungry.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
Don’t lose your character, bring back street food, bring back the hawkers. I miss those late nite noodle knockers (Mì gõ)!
SKEWERS AND THE ELBOW ROOM
Website: shgsaigon.com
Facebook:
Skewers: skewersrestaurantsaigon
The Elbow Room: theelbowroomsaigon
Operating hours: Mon-Sat: 11am-2pm; Mon-Sun: 5pm-10:30pm

PIONEERING SAIGON’S MOST ICONIC FOOD AND DRINK CONCEPTS
Andy O’Brien, Founding Partner A.K.A. Witch Doctor Of Tribe Hospitality Concepts


A true blue Aussie at heart, Andy has been in the F&B industry for more than 20 years. He first cut his teeth in ‘Le Restaurant’, a European restaurant in Melbourne with 3-hats, the highest culinary recognition for a restaurant in Australia. After, Andy worked short stints with multiple award-winning restaurants across Australia including Head Chef at Fenix, a 2-hat restaurant before moving to Europe for six years in pursuit of culinary discovery and inspiration from different types of cuisine, flavour and ingredients. After a private gourmet rendezvous with a client of Madonna, Andy found himself a part of the pop icon’s entourage and spent six months on the road mingling with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, The Who, Elton John and Cirque du Soleil.
After a long-awaited opportunity to work for The Jackson Five fell through due to the passing of Michael Jackson, Andy found himself en route to Vietnam as part of the Intercontinental Saigon’s pre-opening team in 2009. Since, Andy has opened some of the city’s most beloved concepts including Chill, Saigon’s first sky bar/restaurant and L’Usine. In 2014, Andy, together with three other mates, fulfilled his lifelong ambition of creating a leading hospitality group that develops unique, inspirational and imaginative concepts. Today, that group is Tribe Hospitality Concepts and home to some of Saigon’s most standout concepts including The Racha Room (flagship), Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar, Firkin Bar, Dram Bar, Relish & Sons, Tribe Providore Collective (TPC) delivery and catering service and Phats Dumpling House.

CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Jerry Lưu, ex manager at Stoker and current owner of his own bar Climb
• Minh Tam Nguyen, ex senior bartender at Firkin and now co-founder of 419 bar
• Thanh Luan, ex bar manager at The Racha Room now co-founder of Tamarind Hidden Bar, The Gin House & Cozy Eatery & Bar
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Although the industry has changed a lot particularly over the last 5 to 6 years. I believe that at least one thing remains the same – passion and to surround yourself with those who have a like-minded vision to help motivate your drive to succeed.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
Vietnam’s F&B industry is progressing at a faster rate than it ever has since I have been here. The great thing about this industry is everybody always requires food and beverage and it’s one of the nicest ways of bringing people together. I hope and believe that Vietnam’s F&B scene will continue to be recognized globally and that the recent entries into the World’s 50 Best and 100 list are just the beginning and the tip of the iceberg.

SETTING THE BAR AND SHAPING SAIGON’S COCKTAIL CULTURE
Richie Fawcett, Founder-Mixologist At The Studio Saigon

Although Richie Fawcett has taken a step back from his days behind the bar and spends most of his time these days producing detailed panoramic pen and ink drawings of the city, Richie played an instrumental role in shaping Saigon’s bar scene and its bartenders. Since he moved to Saigon in 2011, he has opened some of the city’s most notable bar concepts including Saigon’s first independent cocktail lounge in 2011, the luxurious Six senses Ninh Van Bay bars in 2013, Shri rooftop bar and even double authored cocktail manual “Cocktail Art of Saigon”, which was nominated the Worlds best Cocktail Menu in 2017 at Tales of The Cocktail. Today, he runs The Studio Saigon (opened in 2017, currently closed due to the pandemic) and continues to mentor and train many Vietnamese bartenders and industry personalities.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
I spent 3 years as a cruise ship photographer sailing around the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean just before the millennium and drank every classic cocktail you could name made in the crew bars and posts of call along the way. After, I returned to the UK and started as a cocktail bartender in Soho, London and was trained by Venetia Napoli, learning the recipes of the classics I had drunk on the ships.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Jay Moir – Layla Eatery & Bar and Summer Experiment
• Lam Duc Anh – Diageo
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
• Be patient, results take time and need dedication
• Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and rely on just one revenue stream – invest in yourself and learn as many skills as you can
• Learn as much as possible about every aspect of the business you want to get into as one day you need to start your own.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
I hope that the diversity and variety of bar concepts will return post pandemic and we will have concepts that are experiential and out-of-the-ordinary that stand out of the mediocre. As the ancient classic Vietnamese saying goes” Never Binh Tuong always Dac Biet” “Never Average… always Special”
THE STUDIO SAIGON
Website: thestudiosaigon.dzk-creative.com
Facebook: thestudiosaigon
Operating hours: 12pm – 10pm, daily | Appointment only

THE FIRST TO PRODUCE COMMERCIAL CRAFT SPIRIT IN VIETNAM
Markus Madeja, Founder And Master Distiller At Son Tinh Original Ruou (Craft Rice Wine Liquor)
I arrived in Vietnam from Switzerland by train in early 1993. Nurtured by my previous anthropological studies I discovered a culinary world deeply steeped in cultural tradition and tightly connected with ancient medical concepts. This applies not only for strongly coded combinations of food ingredients but obviously for the traditional, local spirits which I decided to introduce to the world of spirit connoisseurs. It was about making something good and making the Vietnamese proud of something their own rather than being absorbed by globalized reduction to only a few tastes.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
Diversity, because I don’t like preconceptions and simple solutions.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Tommy Le Khoa for his industrious and audacious analysis of F&B trends
• Peter Cuong Franklin for his playfulness with traditional dishes at Anan Saigon
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Stay original but be ready to quickly adapt.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
I hope to see the Vietnamese stick to their own style of dining. My vision is that the F&B industry will develop a vision.
Website: www.sontinh.com | www.highway4.com
Facebook: SonTinhOriginalRuou | Highway4HangTre
Operating hours: 9am – 12pm

THE FIRST TO SELL COMMERCIAL CRAFT BEER IN VIETNAM
Tim Scott, Founder Of Quan Ut Ut And Biacraft Artisan Ale; Deputy Ceo Of Red Wok

Originally from Australia and celebrating his 20th year living in Vietnam this year, Tim is the founder of Quán Ụt Ụt which opened in 2014 and was the first to commercially sell craft beer in Vietnam and BiaCraft Artisan Ales, the first to bring together different craft beers from around the country. Currently, Tim is the Deputy CEO of Red Wok which also operates Wrap & Roll and Lẩu Bò Sài Gòn Vi Vu. He’s been fortunate enough to have worked for some great companies in Vietnam, including MegaStar Cineplex, The Hi-Fi, and Hard Rock Café. His proudest achievement was making the international news for selling a commemorative kimchi infused beer called Kim Jong Ale for the Trump/KJ Il summit in Hanoi.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 15. I think the exhilaration of a dinner rush is addictive, and handling all the crazy things it throws at you on a nightly basis builds a kind of camaraderie with colleagues that’s hard to let go of. I’ve worked with many talented people who have inspired me which has kept me happily on my path. And as cliche as it sounds, it was after reading Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour in 2001 that I decided to come check out Vietnam.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• The guys at Hoprizon are so incredibly passionate about the craft beer they make. You can see it exude from them in every conversation. I think they’re poised to become stronger and stronger, and represent the local Vietnamese craft community on the global stage.
• Mary Vu from Mad Wine Bar and Mad House is another young and talented leader. It seems almost strange to say she’s up-and-coming as she’s such a well known face, but I believe she’s only at the very beginning of her career, and is bound to do even more amazing things.
• Lastly, I am constantly amazed at how brilliant the Kashew Cheese concept is. Lê Na and Toby have really nailed it. I think we can all hope they go far with this brand.

WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
The service industry is very tough. It takes so many different skill sets to pull off a smoothly operated restaurant. You really gotta have a deep passion for what you do – it has to keep you up at night and push you out of bed every morning. If you’re not jonesing for your next busy service, you won’t have the stamina to keep going. Be passionate. Be creative. Enjoy the ride.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
I love everything about Vietnam’s F&B industry, from the cheap street stalls to the funky niche cafes and I sincerely hope none of it gets lost to modernisation and that those at the forefront of Vietnam’s culinary industry help to preserve this country’s rich and authentic street food culture. Simply, I’m hoping as many street food vendors make it through to the other side of the pandemic and for newcomers to continue to bring more new ideas to the table. This way, Vietnam will continue to be a mecca for international foodies.
QUAN UT UT – AMERICAN BBQ & BEER
168 Vo Van Kiet Street, District 1
47 Xuan Thuy Street, District 2
Website: quanutut.com
Facebook: quanutut
Operating hours: 11am – 11pm
BIACRAFT ARTISAN ALES
1 Le Ngo Cat Street, District 3
90 Xuan Thuy Street, District 2
300 Truong Sa Street, Phu Nhuan District
MM1 Truong Son Street, District 10
Website: biacraft.com
Facebook: biacraft
Operating hours: 11am – 11pm

REPRESENTING VIETNAM’S CULINARY SCENE IN A GLOBAL MEDIASCAPE
Chris Thompson, Editor-At-Large At Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam And Epicure Vietnam


Originally from Liverpool, Chris began his career with a series of Sales & Marketing roles at corporate giants Danone and Nestle before joining the drinks industry with Pernod Ricard in London promoting iconic brands like The Glenlivet, Chivas, Jameson and Perrier Jouet. He arrived in Vietnam in 2013 as Regional Director for Rothschild Estates for Indo China before progressing into his current role in the media with Harper’s Bazaar & Epicure Vietnam as well as Marketing Consultant for Thien Linh Wine & Spirits.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
Whatever business you’re in you’ll always need to deal with people. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of business and tried to understand that empathy for colleagues and clients is crucial to business success. The hospitality industry in a cosmopolitan and emerging city like Saigon is a melting pot of different cultures consisting of characters working in many differing functions from purchasing to cooking to front-of-house making it such a diverse and fascinating place to work.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Korean Chef Joonhyuk Chi is making waves up in Hanoi having opened Labri Bistro showcasing really precise cooking in a trendy, intimate and stripped back dining room with a slant towards new technologies
• A new sheriff has slipped into town under the cover of quarantine but expect to see the new General Manager of Quince & Madam Kew taking names down on 37 Ky Con as he starts by revitalising speakeasy Madam Kew
• Jan Visser and the team at Sampan Rhum, which is distilled in Hoi An. They seem to have all their fundamentals in place around provenance, production and distribution strategy and I’m tipping them to have a big 2022.
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Anything that looks, feels, tastes or smells too good to be true usually is. Anything that’s worth having or being involved with in our industry requires hard work and commitment. I’ve not met any successful people in our industry who haven’t worked really hard and shown great commitment to their craft.
Look behind the lens of social media and consider the preparation that goes into these perfects postings that you may see on Instagram.
It’s really important to be able to prioritise and understand when to say no and to what so that you can achieve that balance to spend time with loved ones and recharge those batteries.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
I hope to see the further development of a thriving value chain in our industry. Of course restaurants remain at the epicentre of this but we also need to ensure that suppliers have enough fuel to sustain and develop their operations i.e. deliver the product and service so that restaurants can continue to delight customers and us media can have content to write about. This fuel will be dispensed from the bounce back that we are going to experience in the Vietnamese economy as the country opens up to international visitors again in 2022.

BUILDING A SPECIALTY COFFEE CULTURE IN VIETNAM
Will Frith, Founder And Director Of Building Coffee


Will Frith has been researching and working in the growing specialty coffee industry in Vietnam since 2012 with the mission to change the way the world sees Vietnamese coffee. Frith has roots in the American Pacific Northwest, working for companies including Batdorf & Bronson, Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, and Modbar. Today he is based in Ho Chi Minh City, where his work includes training and education for the city’s booming coffee scene, the development of his own concept cafe project (launching 2021) and a wide-reaching green coffee initiative built around introduction arabica varieties to a region traditionally known for robusta.
Today, Will continues to spearhead his mission through his project building coffee, a space where budding coffee entrepreneurs, baristas and roasters can grow their own coffee business in Saigon. Building has all that a coffee entrepreneur needs to source, roast, package, run quality control and train baristas.
WHO/WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR GETTING INTO THIS INDUSTRY AND WHY?
• Specialty Coffee in general – the team at Batdorf & Bronson, specifically Heather Ringwood and Oliver Stormshak.
• Vietnam’s Specialty Coffee – my own curiosity and vision, as there weren’t many folks that I could easily find in the beginning. Quang Tran (La Viet) has been a very important collaborator from the beginning until now. We’re still good friends and depend on one another a lot for various things.
CAN YOU NAME 3 UP-AND-COMING INDUSTRY FIGURES TO LOOK OUT FOR IN VIETNAM?
• Tran Le Minh Truc (aka Bi Hat De) – he’s got a new coffee roasting company called Every Half, and he’ll continue to be a big influence
• Le Dac Thanh – based in Danang, his company 43 Factory Coffee Roaster is doing some very good work, innovating at every opportunity.
WHAT’S SOME ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO THOSE LOOKING TO ENTER THE INDUSTRY?
Business skills and acumen trump technical skills and know-how. At the end of the day, we’re trying to do business selling products into a market. Without any business skills (or someone on the team who can contribute those skills), the best artisan can’t scale to a level that makes it profitable to support staff in the long term. If one is in the wholesale business, then they must be able to maintain their customers’ confidence in their own ability to help them succeed.
In the specialty coffee sector, there are too many skilled baristas who think their focus on just making the best coffee is enough to bring customers through the door. But, if their average customer doesn’t feel taken care of then the business they’ve created won’t be sustainable due to a lack of repeat business. One must focus on the customer, first and foremost, bringing them along for a journey rather than alienating them the first time they say or request the wrong thing.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT’S YOUR HOPE AND VISION FOR VIETNAM’S F&B INDUSTRY?
Diversification and a sense of identity. Right now, I see a lot of outside influences coming in and creating really great stuff, but most of it is just outside concepts being stuffed into a different setting. If the right mix of influences can come together with a local “twist,” that will initiate the “start” of a strong, modern scene. I’m sure there are individuals who are already doing great work towards what we’re talking about, but it takes a movement, which is more than a few individual players operating in a bubble.
Right now, this new movement is at a nascent stage, with lots of exciting “takes” on Vietnamese culture, but it’s all necessarily derivative. “Authentic” traditional Vietnamese food and beverage is experiencing a real boost, and the outside influence is pushing it in a good direction, but if there’s nothing new or truly modern to take it to another level, this will plateau and lose its shine. It requires multiple diverse things happening at once. This is the most exciting time to enter any up-and-coming scene. I hope for it to snap together to create something truly original and special, on par with Hong Kong, Melbourne, or Bangkok, to become a destination in itself.
BUILDING COFFEE
Website: building.coffee
Facebook: building.coffee
Operating hours: Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm; Sat: 10am-4pm;
Closed on Sundays

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