Behind Bars: An Intimate Chat with Thomas Gillgren at SHRI HCMC

By: Laura Hill

Rediscovering his roots takes Thomas on an entirely different adventure.

Going beyond your comfort zone to create more opportunities.

Meeting the family and the fatherland.

Despite being rainy season in Saigon, the sun is shining and the sky is bright blue when I arrive at Shri Restaurant and Lounge in District 3 to meet with General Manager, Thomas Gillgren. The temperature is wavering around 32 degrees Celsius and the humidity is not far from 90%. It seems even the weather is determined to draw attention to how far we are from the cooler climes of Northern Europe. 

Sitting down with Thomas, I am keen to hear how he has made his way from Stockholm, Sweden to Saigon, but he is quick to correct me explaining that his journey to Vietnam started before he was even born. 

“It really started in Paris,'' he says with a smile. “It was the late 60’s, early 70’s, and many Vietnamese students had made their way to Europe. My mother was studying in Sorbonne, and she met a young student from Vietnam.” From this meeting, a romance blossomed, and the couple stayed together for a number of years, but ultimately the pull of their two home countries was too strong. 

“My mother wanted to go back to Sweden, and my father always had an urge to go back to Vietnam, to support (his) country.” Thomas explains. “Ultimately, when the love (in the) relationship had changed to friendship, when I was maybe 2 or 3 years old, he did.’

Shri Saigon

However, growing up in Sweden, Thomas was never a stranger to his Vietnamese heritage. “My mother never shied from talking about Vietnam, or telling me about my father and his beliefs,” Thomas says. “One of the reasons he came back to Vietnam was to look after his father and I know that he has always loved his country very, very much.” 

After he moved back to Vietnam, it was ten years before Thomas was able to meet up with his father again, but he remembers vividly the day he received a letter telling him that his father and his new family had moved to Europe and he wanted Thomas to meet his new baby sister. “When we received that letter, we were both very excited!” Thomas says of himself and his mother. “I was 12 or 13 and it was a really emotional reunion, because I had heard about him but never met him. We took the train to Brussels and we were on the platform, and then … it was like a movie!’ 

With commitments and careers in different countries Thomas and his father have had little opportunity to meet in person over the last 25 years, but happily, since Thomas’s arrival in Vietnam they have once again been reunited. Indeed, on more than one occasion, Thomas’s work has provided him an opportunity to learn about his heritage and connect with family members located all around the world; a half sister in Brussels, an aunt and cousins in Hong Kong and more cousins here in Vietnam. With so much to learn about himself and his relatives, Thomas says that he knew he would always venture to Vietnam at some point, but it has been a much longer road than he ever imagined.

Starting the journey 

Thomas’ early life in Stockholm was spent surrounded by a large family with “loads” of cousins and aunties playing a part in his childhood. Creativity flowed through the family with many finding success as actors or artists but it was Thomas’ musician grandfather who put him on the road into the food and beverage industry. 

“My grandfather inspired me,” says Thomas. “From when I was a teenager, he was always bringing home things like good quality  wines and spirits, and was always cooking. He was very good friends with the best chefs in Sweden. He’s my mentor when it comes to the finer things in life”.

Thomas’ glittering F&B career started working for ‘some extra money’ after he completed a period of mandatory military service in his home country. His first job was working in a restaurant and casino, starting as a croupier. However, despite his young age, Thomas quickly took on more responsibility, and started collecting the skills that have led him to where he is now.

“I was actually running eight venues, as a casino manager,’ he explains “and that helped me a lot in terms of managing venues, managing a lot of staff and organisation. Also, because you have to be very quick in counting when you’re on the table, I learnt to be friends with numbers at that time, and I love numbers until today!” 

Few would have been surprised if the promise of a management position and a loving family had halted Thomas’ journey before it started, but the lure of the brighter lights in bigger cities eventually drew him away from Stockholm. Though he thought about moving to Vietnam at the time, he opted for somewhere closer to home and it was a decision that landed him in exactly the right place at the right time. 

“I moved to London in my mid-twenties because I wanted to learn more about the bar industry, and I was there just when the whole cocktail scene exploded,” Thomas says with a smile. “I got to work with some of the best bartenders in the world and I was part of the first generation of the ‘new cocktail’ era.” 

Still smiling, he explains that this was a time when there was genuine competition between the classic cocktail scene of New York and more experimental London, for the right to call their city the ‘cocktail capital’. 

Shri Saigon

“People say New York, but the ‘new cocktail’ era very much started in London” he says proudly. “The word ‘mixologist’ didn’t exist! We were just ‘enthusiastic bartenders’. We were the first generation of cocktail bartenders and we started experimenting with flavours. We infused different types of flavours into spirits, which hadn’t really been done before. We started using fresh ingredients, taking inspiration from the kitchen, which hadn’t been done before. We were using different tools that we didn’t use at that time, and that exploded as well, and what happened then was a change in the whole F&B industry when it came to the approach towards beverages.”

Reflecting on this period of change, Thomas suggests that he is experiencing similar things at present in Ho Chi Minh City. 

“It’s fantastic! There are so many places opening here in Saigon, and there are things that are different here in Vietnam, flavours and tastes, that are completely different from what we grow up with in Europe…”

“... And, nowadays, people have access to what’s happening in San Francisco, what’s happening in New York, what’s happening in London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo, in a second. People get inspired by that, so it’s going so much quicker now.” Talking about social media and the instant access to information that we currently enjoy, he laughs, “When I started, it was newspapers and magazines! We had an industry magazine that everyone shared and passed around, called ‘Class’, that’s how we would find out what was going on!” 

Whilst London’s communication channels may be slow be today’s standard, it was undoubtedly an exciting place to be in terms of developing an F&B career. While many bartenders tend to stick to spirits and cocktails, Thomas was determined to branch out and gain as much knowledge as he could. Carrying the seed of his grandfather’s influence, he took the opportunity to develop his understanding of food and wine, leading to some incredible opportunities. 

“I learned a lot in London and I started being inspired by wine. Working in restaurants, it’s limitless what you can learn, so I started being more and more interested. I was working with some of the best sommeliers in the world. Then I ended up working with some really great chefs. Looking at them, and what they created, was so inspirational to me. When you can see the passion of the people in the industry, that’s the key, because that’s where you find the success.” 

Shri Saigon

Thomas certainly experienced success in 2002 when he was able to work with Michelin starred chef Pierre Gagnaire, whilst opening world renowned restaurant Sketch in Mayfair, one of London’s most exclusive districts. Once given the label of ‘the most expensive restaurants in the world, Sketch was just one of the high-profile venues Thomas was associated with during his time in London. 

However, it was not all plain sailing. Thomas experienced his share of difficulties too. “I actually opened a restaurant / bar / nightclub in London that went ‘tits up’,” he says laughing, “I lost everything, all my money, literally lost everything!” Noticing my surprised expression at his amused response, Thomas is quick to explain. 

“It was maybe not so fun at the time, but I turned it around and used that experience. I had learned more and more and more about (the F&B industry), but that experience taught me that everything is attached to a cost and that has helped me greatly in my career.”

Beyond Europe

That experience was something Thomas was able to take with him when he eventually moved on from London after 14 years, destined for Dubai and the ‘glitz and glamour’ of another up and coming food and beverage hub. Again, he was located front and centre of the changes, opening another award-winning restaurant in 2009. Under Thomas’ management, OKKU became one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in the city. 

However, whilst Thomas’ career went from strength to strength in the Middle East, he admits Dubai was ‘harder’ than the previous places he had been. Fortunately, another opportunity was about to come knocking. 

“I picked up so many experiences in terms of working in different cultures when in Dubai” he says, “But a friend of mine, who was working in Indonesia, contacted me and said ‘It’s time for you to move over here’ and I was very happy to move on to Southeast Asia and explore my Asian roots.” 

The project was the now internationally recognised Potato Head Beach Club in Bali, and Thomas once again used the opportunity as a learning experience. Starting as Operations Manager before becoming Project Manager, Thomas looks back on the period fondly. 

Shri Saigon

“I loved working there,'' he says emphatically. “They’re very friendly. They had a kind of culture where you treat your staff as family, and people who came to the restaurant or facilities are treated like part of the outer family. I love the respect and smiles of the Asian culture”.

Home from Home

After two years in Bali, Thomas was eventually given the opportunity that brought him to Vietnam. “It took a long time,'' he says, “46 years! But a friend of mine asked if I was interested in opening a beach club here, which I was, but…” 

“ was also the opportunity to come to Vietnam and really meet, not just my family but also the country. It was an opportunity for me to go back to my fatherland.”

Since arriving to Saigon, Thomas has been reunited with his father, albeit briefly, as he still lives overseas. However, while understanding his personal heritage is clearly a priority for Thomas, for once, he is not only focussing on learning. Now, he is keen to share his wealth of knowledge with those around him. 

Shri Saigon

“I am in a situation now where I can share (my) experience with the Vietnamese staff. And I really feel that if I share as much as I can with them, I’ll also get so much back. By listening to the staff here, I really feel like I have a chance to find parts of myself, and because we have a lot of Vietnamese customers, that makes me want to go deeper into Vietnamese culture. Working here, I learn more about myself as I am learning about my roots.” 

Knowing that I’ve kept Thomas talking for much longer than I should have, I ask if he ever thought that his first job in Stockholm would have taken him around the globe to work with industry leaders over and over? He replies with a shake of the head.

“I am a dreamer” he says with a broad smile. “I haven’t been trying to achieve something specific, but I focus on getting the most out of every experience. This has come up from being open minded, I think. The F&B industry is full of opportunities, there are so many things you can do. If someone wants to become a bartender, they should try it, but go in with an open mind and try to learn as much as you can. (At Shri) I tell my staff ‘Don’t be afraid! Go for it!’”

And while that advice is often easier said than done, it’s hard to argue with Thomas’ track record and infectious enthusiasm. I end our conversation with a quick question about what the future has in store.

“I will stay here indefinitely” he replies with certainty... 

“...Vietnam is the place that is happening now, I’ve not just heard it, I’ve seen it. People are coming over here, but it’s the Vietnamese people that are the key. They are so eager to learn and to be part of the world but without losing their originality! And being Vietnamese, that’s what I’m here for too. To become more Vietnamese and to honor my Vietnamese heritage.”

Image source: Shri Saigon

Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

By: Uyen Vu

Whether it is sunny or rainy, hot or cold, or you’re busy or laid-back, young or old, it is always a good idea to refresh yourself with a cup of pearl milk tea, also known as bubble tea. Pearl milk tea is a tea-based drink invented in Taiwan – a delicious mixture of tea, milk, chewy tapioca balls (the ‘pearls’) and/or fruit jelly.
Below are our hand-picked bubble tea shops among those that are currently popular in Saigon.

1. Phuc Long

The Phuc Long brand has become very popular over the last few years. It was founded in the 1960s in Bao Loc, Lam Dong province, which is famous for its tea. The official name is Phuc Long Tea & Coffee but it is mainly known for its milk tea. You won’t find the common pearl toppings of the Taiwanese milk-tea style that is so popular in Vietnam. Don’t be disappointed because you will get addicted to it with just a little sip.

Phuc Long Tea & Coffee - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Phuc Long has a reputation for high quality coffee and milk tea. Its patrons are mostly young professionals or middle-aged people because it generally charges a higher price for premium ingredients. The three busiest shops are on Mac Thi Buoi, Nguyen Huy and in Crescent Mall. The one in Crescent Mall is spacious and well-decorated, while the other two have quite limited space and may get cramped and noisy on the weekend.
Address 1: 63 Mac Thi Buoi Str., D1
Address 2: 39 Nguyen Hue Str., D1
Price range: 35.000–40.000VND/cup
Address 3: Ground Floor, Crescent Mall, Ton Dat Tien Str., D7
Price range: 45.000–60.000VND/cup

2. Chatime

A famous bubble tea brand in Taiwan, the country that gave birth to pearl milk tea back in 1980s, Chatime im/mediately attracted lots of fans when it was introduced to Vietnam. With over 70 choices, anyone can find a mixture they like.

Chatime Vietnam - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Chatime’s bubble tea flavours range from strongly aromatic bubble tea to refreshing fruit, from “oriental pop tea” to modern smoothies, or as exotic as QQ Jelly (a combination of traditional ‘pearls’ and coconut jelly). The most popular topping is, of course, its home-made pearl. Chatime’s bubble tea is generally sweet but you can ask the staff to customize the sweetness to your taste.
Unfortunately Chatime is a bit expensive for student market it is trying to attract.
Address 1: Floor B2-17, Vincom B, D1
Address 2: 98 Le Thanh Ton Str., D1
Price range: 38.000–48.000VND/cup

3. Tien Huong

Tien Huong emerged on the market only two years ago but already has a number of shops across Saigon. It has quickly become a favourite among Saigon youth.

Tien Huong - Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

The flagship drink on Tien Huong’s menu is fresh milk tea with tapioca. The pronounced flavour of the tea with the sweetness of milk makes this drink really delicious. Unlike other places, Tien Huong only makes the tea when you order. Your order takes a bit longer to be processed but it’s worth the wait.
The drawback is that Tien Huong shops are often small and you may have a hard time finding a seat.
Address 1: 175B Cach Mang Thang 8 Str., Ward 5, D3
Address 2: 789 Tran Hung Dao, Ward 1, D5
Price range: 22.000–32.000VND/cup

4. Hot & Cold

Hot & Cold is probably the pioneer milk tea shop when it comes to letting customers customize their drink. The process is easy, quick and intuitive. After choosing your favourite milk tea, you proceed to pick the toppings, flavour and pudding. The two most popular combos here are Combo Hawaii Cocktail and Combo Milk Smoothie.

Hot & Cold Top four bubble tea shops in Saigon

Besides milk tea, you could try a variety of skewers, such as prawn tempura, four-color shrimp-ball stuffed with taro, surimi, crab ball stuffed with green sticky rice, and swirl fries. Most Hot & Cold shops are decorated colorfully and have big, air-conditioned spaces. They are also among the cheapest in town and have become popular among teens.
The only downside is that waiters/waitresses are really slow and sometimes quite rude to customers.
Address: 100 Tran Hung Dao Str., D1
Price range: 14.000–30.000VND/cup

Can Vietnam Produce Quality Coffee?

By: City Pass Guide

Meet The Expert: Interview With a Coffee Master

On a sunny Thursday in August, we went to The Workshop, an artisan coffee shop on Ngo Duc Ke street in Saigon’s District 1, to meet with Dung, a true expert on coffee in Vietnam. The Workshop is located in the same part of the street as Tandoor, but well hidden. Only a blue sign by the entrance indicates that a pearl of worldwide artisan coffee culture can be found upstairs.

The Workshop is nicely decorated with wooden elements. It appears like a mix of modern designer café and coffee science museum, the tools of trade exhibited in shelves along the walls. In the center there is the bar, where the trained staff performs the brewing process in front of your eyes. There is original artwork on the walls and we instantly felt at home. We met Dung in the conference room adjacent to the spacious guest area. We introduced ourselves and he immediately started talking about coffee.

Dung Tuan Nguyen’s first experience with coffee was when he was two years old. His mother gave him coffee and the rest of the night he spend walking around the bed - to the very displeasure of his father who had to get up early. He really started drinking coffee when he was 12 or 13 years old. By the time he was in high school, he used the delicious brew to survive his tests.

As a trained architect it was hard to find good work in Vietnam, so he switched between project management and hotel consultancy, until he found his passion in coffee.

Working in the coffee business makes Dung feel good, and doing something that changes the fundamental thoughts people have about coffee is fun. His passion for the bean and the confident conversation that comes right to the point shows he knows as much about coffee as the second man.

[Answers are paraphrased for purposes of brevity and readability.]

City Pass: What makes coffee so attractive to people?

Dung: There are several things that make us love coffee. First the reaction of our body and mind to the caffeine. It makes us alert, excites us and makes the brain work better. Second, the cafés became an intellectual and social place for doing business or politics. And third, it tastes good and smells even better. Alone the smell of coffee makes people happy, even those who don’t drink coffee.

City Pass: Tell us about the significance of coffee in Vietnam.

Dung: Since the French introduced the coffee plant around 150 years ago, Vietnam became the second biggest producer in the world, right after Brazil. The country is number one in growing robusta. Since 1993, the government focuses on mass production, so many arabica plantations got destroyed and replaced. Today, 99.9% of the coffee grown in Vietnam is robusta and catimor, but the quality is rather poor.

Unroasted Coffee Beans

City Pass: What is the difference between robusta and arabica?

Dung: Apart from the great difference in taste and the shape of the beans, the trees are very distinct. The arabica tree has 22 pairs of chromosomes, while the robusta tree has only 11 pairs. Robusta is, as the name already indicates, very robust and grows in lower altitudes. Arabica trees need much more attention and care. One hectare of arabica trees yields about seven tons of coffee, while the same area planted with robusta gives three times as much, but of low quality.

City Pass: What is the main constraint associated with the production of more arabica coffee in Vietnam?

Dung: People don’t care about the quality of the coffee. There is not much commitment from the buyer’s side, since they want a high production and a cheaper price. You have to go directly to the farmer and work with him. Just staying in the city and ordering the beans you want remotely is a bourgeois attitude. There are a lot of wealthy farmers in Cau Dat, but many coffee farmers of other regions of Da Lat, like Lang Biang for example, are poor and have to borrow from loan sharks to survive. At harvest time they collect every cherry to pay the interest. Farmers in debt are very common. If you really help them and be transparent about what you do, they trust you and are willing to enter a long-term relationship.

City Pass: How is coffee, especially more sophisticated specialities, perceived in Vietnam?

Dung: In Vietnam, coffee has to be thick, black and bitter. That pretty much sums it up. But I am not trying to convert hardcore traditional coffee drinkers. I rather target people who love to drink good coffee, people overseas, people who usually don’t drink coffee and expats.

Syphon Coffee Maker

City Pass: What is the greatest weakness of Vietnamese coffee?

Dung: One of the greatest weaknesses of the country is that Vietnam doesn’t have an international brand, not even international recognition when it comes to coffee despite being the second largest exporter in the world. The big brands in Vietnam just screw the people. They just want to get the cheap coffee and are obsessed with tons, even if they say they care. It is the same as with rice.

City Pass: How is the opportunity to create a brand around Vietnam?

Dung: We are at an age where quality and moral production becomes more important. In order to do that you have to be an authentic person, passionate and have a love for what you do. We have to do things properly.

City Pass: What is the most important aspect in your work with farmers and customers?

Dung: Transparency. Everything has to be done transparent. If you offer a single-source product, it is pointless if you can’t name the farm where the coffee comes from. Several companies claim to source locally and sustainably, but they don’t disclose the origin. It really is all a matter of transparency and trust.

City Pass: Tell us something about the taste of coffee.

Dung: Dark roasted coffee usually tastes bitter and burned. When you roast light, you bring out the specific types, which we divide into seven general categories: Floral, fruity, herbal, honey/molasses, acidic/wine-ish. There is a lot of fruitiness in Kenyan and Colombian beans, while coffee from Laos, Panama and Ethiopia is more floral. Vietnamese coffee is more fruity than floral. Check out the taste wheel at to get a better idea of the flavors.

Chemex Coffee Maker

City Pass: How to create a perfect cup?

Dung: Nothing is perfect. Working with artisan coffee is a world of trying and experimenting. In the past, people thought dark roasted beans make the best coffee. The community of speciality coffee lovers discovered that roasting light brings out the best flavors. We always try new things.

But to make a good cup of coffee, you need great beans, filtered water and the right temperature.

However, the most important piece of equipment is the grinder. Invest in your grinder. You can buy a decent machine for around VND 700,000 up to VND 2,500,000. Electric grinders may be even pricier. The coffee should be ground evenly and not like dust or sand.


If you crave to taste Dung’s expertise firsthand, I recommend visiting The Workshop in 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1 ( on the 2nd floor) yourself. Pick one of the three beans they have on the menu, combine it with your favorite brewing method and you’re ready to go.

The Workshop - Speciality Coffee in Saigon

A Chat with Cafe RuNam

By: Aleksandr Smechov sat down with Chris Ngo, Cafe RuNam’s Chief Operating Officer, to discuss how Cafe RuNam is slowly changing locals’ minds about the concept of “pure” Vietnamese coffee. Through a meticulous selection process where only a minor percentage of beans make it through inspections, Cafe RuNam is all about consistent quality and traditional taste. It even took their Italian roastmaster months to achieve the perfect blends of Arabica and Robusta beans for the brand. What does “RuNam” mean?

Chris: Ru is understood as a lullaby song for a child, Nam stands for Vietnam, of course, since this is a Vietnamese brand. RuNam is “the lullaby of Vietnam”, the spiritual baby to be flourished with love, care and affection, bringing the best Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: Who is behind Cafe RuNam?

Chris: Mr. Nguyen Quoc Khanh and his wife Mrs. Ly Q. K. Trinh. Mr. Khanh, Chairman of AA Corporation, an established construction company specializing in premium interior design, is taking care of the basic construction and designs of RuNam restaurants while Mrs. Trinh is the soul of the brand, a perfectionist. Her personal touch and exaggerated expectations are shown in the little details of our cafes.

CPG: How do you roast your beans?

Chris: We have our own roasting facility and coffee testing lab located in Binh Duong province. Our Italian Roastmaster has been researching for suitable roasting methods for Vietnamese coffee blends. There are several blends of Cafe RuNam differentiated by the percentage of arabica and robusta in the mix and roasting timing according to specific temperature adjustment. There are also many different types of each bean, so the entire process of finding the right method of roasting this mix was much more complex than simply roasting one type of bean. The difference of a perfectly roasted coffee and a burned coffee is the matter of seconds.

CPG: How are you bringing “pure” coffee to Vietnam?

Chris: What locals often drink in streetside cafes is not necessarily coffee. So introducing a pure coffee, without additives or artificial flavors like caramel, soybeans, corns was a crazy idea at first. From the locals’ perception, this is not real coffee, but we patiently change that perception by introducing the highest quality blends from our homemade production, from highly selected fresh green beans to monitoring the roasting process to crafting each coffee cup under consistent training procedures, as well as regular system audits from RuNam barista artists. Therefore we believe the culinary marriage of Vietnamese coffee beans with Italian roasting techniques works well. As a result, we currently have a large number of loyal customers and fans who love our coffee and the soul behind it.

CPG: Do you have additives in your coffee?

Chris: No. We use 100% coffee beans. That is the most challenging factor we’ve faced in the first several months of preparations before introducing our blends to the market. In the beginning, most Vietnamese coffee drinkers didn’t like the taste. This is something really new for them. We started to explain to our customers the reasons behind the taste and how it’s different with what they usually have. If they still don’t like it we can change the beverage or give them their money back.

CPG: Do you have a secret ratio for your blends of arabica and robusta?

Chris: Actually, this depends on the roastmaster. Depending on the season and the beans and the taste, he decides what is best suitable according to our blend guidelines and standard SOPs.

CPG: Do you import any coffee beans?

Chris: No. We use 100% Vietnamese beans. Although it’s very difficult to find good arabica here in Vietnam. The coffee growing conditions in the highlands is challenging for producing good arabica. Our roasting master has to occasionally sample different sources of beans from different plantations in order to keep up the quality and consistency of the coffee blends.

CPG: What are your best sellers?

Chris: Our ca phe sua da, ca phe da and cappuccino. These three have been the favorite of our customers. We received numerous compliments for our coffee drink menu. I have been tasting different Vietnamese coffee or cappuccinos whenever I travel or during my free time, I couldn’t find anything like it. The ambassador of Italy came to Vietnam in early 2015, and she first came to Cafe RuNam to have a cup of cappuccino, which was recommended to her by the previous ambassador. She loves it.

CPG: How did you personally get into coffee?

Chris: I got to learn about coffee when I was with KFC Singapore when we started to launch KFC breakfast. Before joining Cafe RuNam I was the Training and Development Manager for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I was sent overseas for barista training. I was a barista judge for some competitions. I was trained again with the RuNam roastmaster. The company sponsored me, some key managers and key baristas for Espresso Italiano Experience Seminar by International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IICT – Italy branch) to get myself ready for Cafe RuNam.

CPG: Have you created a signature Cafe RuNam coffee drink?

Chris: We have Madam RuNam, an iced latte with condensed milk and some secret ingredients. Also Sand Dune: a very unique coffee alcohol drink with Kahlua, Bailey's and some in-house ingredients. Besides those, we have many delicious in-house creations coming soon.

CPG: Who are your customers?

Chris: Café RuNam’s customers are comprised of following target groups: affluent local residents, middle to upper class tourists, local business people, the young at heart.

This depends on our store locations. In the South, it’s mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều. In the Center, it’s mostly tourists. And in the North, it’s like in the South - mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều.

CPG: Have you started exporting your beans?

Chris: Yes, we already have partner restaurants in several countries. However, the production at the moment is pretty tight since getting quality beans is difficult right now. We have a list of potential domestic and international customers who proposed to be partners with Cafe RuNam, but we’re not ready for this at the moment.

CPG: What’s the future of RuNam?

Chris: We’re in the process of spreading our brands to all the big cities in Vietnam where our main target customers are located. We already have our focus on the premium coffee market. Therefore selecting distribution partners or cafes needs a proper process of brand evaluation. We send barista trainers to the partner facility to train them on brewing, crafting and displaying coffee products according to Cafe RuNam standards. For long term, we plan to bring the best of Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: How many cups of coffee do you drink every day?

Chris: About four to nine cups [laughs]. On some days I can’t even open my eyes without going to work getting a coffee. And when I’m on holiday, well, those are hell. I try to drink other brands, but nothing comes close to what I want. I usually have cappuccinos, ca phe sua das, espressos. I must have two to three cups of cappuccino and/or cafe sua da a day, at least! That’s just my life. Do you want another cup of coffee?

CPG: How do you educate yourself about coffee?

Chris: I read about it. I research about it. I sign up for quality coffee courses. I practice crafting coffee whenever I can. Recently, I started writing about it. Besides coffee knowledge, my writing also includes how coffee became a part of my life, my search for answers about the coffee industry and culture, and how coffee got me where I am standing today. I share what I write with my team. I may publish it one day when I am ready for the fame it may get me. For now, I want to stay focus flourishing my spiritual RuNam baby.

CPG: Do you like to drink any other coffee in town?

Chris: I actually check around every day to try different coffee. If I know any new coffee shop that just opened I check out their coffees. Traveling to any new city, I try the coffee there. Coffee is mostly my life, having a good cup of coffee everywhere I go, for me, is a way of indulging in life.

CPG: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

Chris: We are promoting not just coffee but Vietnam’s traditional aspects to our customers. One of the distinguishing symbols of Cafe RuNam is the art of the coffee filter (phin). For the foreign friends, if you come in a small group, and you want to learn more about the coffee phin making process, we have well-trained barista artists (or you could simply ask for me, I am usually based in Ho Chi Minh City) to personally present the uniqueness of the Vietnamese coffee filter culture for you and your guests.

Meet the Expert: GM of Starbucks

By: City Pass Guide

We went to Starbucks on 76 Le Lai street, Ben Thanh, to meet and interview Patricia Marques, General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam about living in Vietnam, opening new markets and the strengths of Vietnamese coffee beans. How long have you been in Vietnam and what holds you, personally, here?

I arrived five years ago, and just three days later I knew that I wanted to stay here. I lived in many countries before and for me it’s easy to adapt to other cultures. However, Vietnam instantly felt like Latin America. The traffic, the chaos and the reason behind this chaos, it really feels like home. What is your greatest pet peeve in Vietnam?

At work? Punctuality is really an issue. You brought Starbucks to Vietnam?

I have been here for five years, but yes, I started the Starbucks Vietnam adventure almost three years ago. Myself, I started my career around 11 years ago as a barista in San Mateo, California. At that time, Starbucks had “only” 400 stores worldwide. What draws Starbucks to Vietnam?

The Maxims Group in Hong Kong and Macao had a license for Starbucks in Vietnam and we felt the market was ready. In most other Asian countries we had already opened branches; Vietnam, as the second largest exporter of coffee in the world, was the next logical step. What were the main obstacles of expanding to Vietnam?

Believe it or not, establishing a big brand faces obstacles in every country around the world. In Vietnam the issues were just of a different nature, that’s what made it our unique Vietnamese experience. But in a way it was easier to establish the business in an existing coffee culture like Vietnam. In other Asian countries you need to convert the tea drinkers first, but here you are just another player. Speaking of other players, Highlands Coffee, Phuc Long and others have Vietnamese coffee on the menu, why not Starbucks?

First, we have. There are in fact two Vietnamese-style items on the menu. Asian Dolce Latte and Dolce Misto are inspired by ca phe sua da, done the Starbucks way. But adapting completely to the Vietnamese taste would take away our uniqueness. Many of our customers are used to Starbucks from other countries. When they come to Vietnam, they want to visit a Starbucks. What is the most popular beverage in Vietnam?

From the cold section it’s the Green Tea Frappuccino. Especially people who are not used to drinking coffee are drawn towards this beverage. Among the hot drinks, it’s definitely the Latte. Are there differences in consumption between the South and the North?

Definitely. First, in the North we have seasons and the consumption changes between winter and summer. In Saigon, there is no winter, so most of the hot drinks and drip coffees are consumed by foreigners. What is the ratio of foreign customers?

Low, actually less than 5 percent. How is Starbucks contributing to a sustainable development in Vietnam?

I believe we are an innovator. We have a very clear career path and already there are four or five stores in Ho Chi Minh City that are managed by Vietnamese former baristas. Also we build all our stores with respect to local material, with local construction partners and local artists. How much coffee do you actually source in Vietnam?

Let me explain how our coffee works. There is the Starbucks Coffee Company who sources coffee all over the world, also in Vietnam. They roast, blend, package and distribute the product to all shops. Since we opened Starbucks Vietnam, they listened to us and pay closer attention to Vietnamese arabica beans. What are the chances of Vietnamese coffee beans on the international market?

Vietnam sits in a golden chair, especially since it’s the largest producer of robusta beans worldwide. If we work with the farmers, we can especially push for arabica, the potential is enormous there. What is the best coffee region for arabica in Vietnam?

Da Lat. The region has exactly what the arabica plants like and the cherries are especially beautiful, an important criteria for excellent coffee. How much coffee do you drink per day?

One cup, drip coffee.

Top 5 Sports Bars in HCMC

By: Phuong Tran


Finding the 5 best sports bars in Ho Chi Minh City was not an easy task as the options are almost endless. We visited as much as we could on one liver and deliver you below our top 5 picks.

You can watch in those pubs almost all the typical international sporting events. They are usually packed on big soccer nights when Premier League, Champion's' League or World Cup matches are screened. Other popular events include the Olympic Games, UFC Fighting, Australian Football (AFL), Basketball (NBA), American Football (NFL) and Hockey (NFL).

You should note that each nationality usually favors its own sports bar. Phatty's for instance is usually most popular with Australians.


1) Pacharan

Pacharan is a restaurant first, but it is popular for watching sports in Saigon as well, especially with the Iberic fans. Located directly opposite the Park Hyatt Hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Pacharan Spanish restaurant is spread over four floors. Feast on dishes such as tender chorizo, marinated anchovies, chillied gambas, bean stew, parsley and garlic-sauteed baby mushrooms, white-wine clams and marinated pork skewers.

Or try authentic paella for a real taste of Spain while supporting La Roja. .

97 Hai Ba Trung, D1 HCMC

2) Papagayo Restaurant & Bar

This French Mediterranean restaurant serves pizza and onion soup, and a special discount on Tiger draught and Heineken just for the World Cup. Open for all matches until 3am.

18 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, D2 HCMC

3) Red Bar

Red Bar is one of the most popular bar in the city and it is always a good choice when it comes to sport. Network or simply mix and mingle at Red Bar Saigon. The international menu is ever-changing, from fish and chips to chateaubriand.

The craziest thing about Red Bar? Its Happy Hour is the longest in HCMC and goes from 9am to 9pm every day! It’s also one of the only smoke-free bars in town. So, if you are Dutch or a non-smoker, Red bar is your home for watching sports in Saigon.

70-72 Ngo Duc Ke, D1 HCMC

4) Boomarang Bistro Saigon

If you are in District 7, don’t worry, you are not too far from the fun. In fact, there’s a fabulous bar in the Crescent named Boomarang where you can enjoy authentic Australian cuisine, and of course, shout your favourite football team’s name.

CR-2 3-4 107 Tôn Dật Tiên, PMH D7, HCMC

5) Phatty's

The premier hub for Aussie expats, Phatty's serves a selection of tempting Aussie burgers and BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwiches, gourmet chicken fillets and succulent steaks. When a big event is on, Phatty’s does not hesitate to pull all-nighters.

46 Ton That Thiep, D1, HCMC

Further Suggestions for the best sports bars in Saigon:

- Chill Sky Bar26th & 27th Floor Rooftop, AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, D1 HCMC

- The Alps (German), 54 Pasteur, Ward Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC

- The Cube Bar, 31B Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC

- Lotte Legend Saigon, 2A-4A Ton Duc Thang, Ben Nghe Ward, D1, HCMC

- The Orient Bar, 24 Ngo Van Nam, D1, HCMC

- Game On - Sports Pub Saigon - 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC

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