Startup to Success: Five Oysters

food - Saigon/HCMC: July 10, 2015

The Five Oysters is a pocket of calm on one of Southeast Asia’s busiest tourist strips. The owner, Ho Quang Man, established his now thriving restaurant three years ago this July, and its careful ambience and tasty Vietnamese cuisine attract customers from all walks of life. Tourists, expats and locals fill the Five Oysters every night to soak in the quiet music and relax in the warm light.

How did it start?

We decided to ask the man himself.

When did you start the Five Oysters, and why?

This month I am celebrating three years of running the Five Oysters. Before that, I owned a clothing brand for more than 10 years and I also worked for an international bank in Vietnam.

I was born and grew up in a seaside province near to the city, so I knew all the best seafood suppliers well. I also love cooking, especially Vietnamese food, so I decided to open the Five Oysters after leaving the bank. I made all the arrangements, connected with suppliers, and opened the next day! I knew I would have to learn as I went, and it’s been hard, but I also knew that if I focused on my customers and worked hard to bring them what they enjoy my business would grow quickly. And it did.

Is it easy to start a restaurant in this city?

Maybe not easy, but definitely a good idea! Vietnamese people love eating out a lot. However their taste and eating styles change very fast, and Western taste is also very different. It is difficult to cater to everyone.

What vision did you have for the business when you started it?

To keep improving. Always keep improving. I think I saw the Five Oysters as an opportunity to learn, and customer service was a completely new field to me when I started out. The clothing business is different than hospitality, but one thing that applies to both industries is "love your customers".

Before I was happy to bring my customers a nice costume, and now a cool meal. I also wanted to show people the food of my country, Vietnam. I think it is important to share the real Vietnam with tourists at a good, fair price. It all comes back to “love your customers”. 

What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced since you started the Five Oysters?

The biggest challenge is ongoing - learning to know your customers. It is hard to “love your customers” if you don’t know what they are looking for, and at the Five Oysters we are always learning more.

When I started the Five Oysters I had very little idea about Western taste. I knew what Vietnamese people like to eat, I am Vietnamese! But my restaurant is on a famous tourist street, and what local people love to eat is not always what Westerners can enjoy. Since Five Oysters is located in the backpacking area, we have to learn everyday what foreign tourists love most from a huge range of local cuisine, and adjust our menu and cooking to that. It is a challenge but a rewarding one. The Five Oysters is always a calm, friendly place and I think it’s because we really care about our customers’ experiences.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City?

I don’t think I can advise anyone, since the success of my restaurant is small. Restaurant business is super hard. You have to spend time and money to learn, and the competition is always changing! But I always remind myself  everyday to keep fighting.

I think that’s the best advice: be ready to change, always love the customer, always try to know the customer, and above all - keep fighting. Apart from that, make sure that what you’re serving the customers is good.

Who do you employ in the Five Oysters?

I want to serve the most authentic Vietnamese cuisine, so all kitchen staff members are professional Vietnamese cooks. Service staff could be anyone! Almost all the waiters and waitresses at Five Oysters are University students. They are young, active and open minded to learn.

I know that many restaurants in the backpacker area only employ Vietnamese, but I think it is important to be fair to everyone. We have worked with one girl from Cambodia, someone from the Philipines, etc.

What vision do you have for the Five Oysters in the future?

People usually call us "the best Vietnamese restaurant in the backpacking area". We are working hard everyday to deserve it. I have recently bought the building next door and expanded my restaurant to allow more people inside.

For now, I want to focus on building up the Five Oysters as a totally unique place for food, atmosphere and service. I don’t think about opening a chain right now, but maybe in the future, maybe in my favourite city Hoi An. Who knows! For now, let’s focus on Ho Chi Minh City.

In a few words, what is the Five Oysters? Who do you cater to?

Five Oysters is just a name including my favorite number and a kind of seafood popular in Vietnam, a country with a long seacoast.

Actually, over half our menu has nothing to do with fish or oysters. But we are proud of our seafood, and as we have a good supply source and talented local cooks in our kitchen, I am confident to say that the Five Oysters cuisine is 100% Vietnamese.

We cater to tourists, locals, expats, anyone.

Why did you buy the building next to the Five Oysters, and expand?

As you know the competition in the tourist area is very high. If you have something good, people will copy you very quickly. At Five Oysters, we do not walk, we run.

Before I renovated, some nights of the week and especially during the weekend, we did not have enough tables for our customers. At that time the business next to us was for sale so we decided to buy it, and make the place bigger. Now we can receive big groups of customers, and also group parties like birthday or anniversary events.

Why do you think your restaurant is rated so highly on Tripadvisor?

For two years continually we received the certificate of Excellence by Tripadvisor. It's really a gift from our customers. Although the reviews can be positive or negative sometimes, we learn a lot from it and always make it our first aim to fix any issues. We never increase our prices on the menu, even though rent on Bui Vien has definitely increased, because we want to keep our food and drink at the low budget range for tourist people, especially backpackers.