A Chain Reaction

With big names like Starbucks, Burger King and McDonald’s dominating local headlines, Oi decided it was time to shine the spotlight on homegrown franchises that you may not have heard about, but should

A Chain Reaction - Image by Nam Quan 3

Startup Coffee
“We obviously can’t take Starbucks head on, so guerilla warfare is the way to go,” Mai Truong Giang, Founder and CEO of Startup Café, states. “Besides, what I want to do is not try to be a cheap knockoff but rather to create a place where young, ambitious entrepreneurs can come together and share ideas and experiences. The homage to Starbucks is just one more way to get people to pay attention.”

Unlike many of his peers, the 28-year-old is hardly a stranger to the franchising business. His first is Chewy Junior, a hugely successful dessert franchise in the city. Startup Coffee is his second attempt, and the concept is hardly original (coffee and snacks on the go). And in an industry rife with fierce competition from both international and local brands alike, Startup Coffee seemed destined to a fate of obscurity had it not been for a strategic opening move made by Giang 10 months ago. He imitated the world’s most popular coffee chain –  Starbucks.

A Chain Reaction - Image by Nam Quan 2

Startup Cafe debuted to a lawsuit from Starbucks. To any observer, the similarities in the names and logos are undeniable. The suit would have been a sure loss for them if not for the fact Startup Cafe opened before Starbucks ever did in Vietnam. As it stands right now, with a minimum of at least 18 months of litigation in court before any verdict is made, there is little Starbucks can do aside from giving Startup Coffee more free exposure. This explosive debut gave Startup Coffee its much needed push to experiment and build on its ‘own’ brand image.

64 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, D1
38 Tran Hung Dao, D1
271 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Binh Thanh

A Chain Reaction - Image by Nam Quan

Until a year ago, durian hot pies were practically unheard of among the locals but that changed with the birth of Durio, the first and as of yet, only Vietnamese durian hot pie brand. Durio sells two types of durian hot pies and crepes and serves an average of 500 -700 customers per day at each of its kiosks.

“When I was staying in Singapore, I saw that durian hot pies sold like, well, hot cakes. So I thought, Vietnamese love durian even more than Singaporeans do,” says Tran Minh Phang, Founder and CEO of Durio. “Durian is like a drug for us, but at the time we had nothing like durian hot pies. Our market is bigger, our costs are lower, and our ingredients are fresher so I thought I couldn’t lose.

When I finished my degree, I went back to Vietnam and opened my first Durio stand.” Phang came up with the idea when he chanced upon a long line of Singaporeans waiting to buy something that wasn’t the next Apple product. His curiosity piqued, he joined the queue and patiently waited to see what they were selling. When he found out that it was just an ordinary crispy hot pie stuffed with fresh durian, he started paying more attention and became convinced that he too could duplicate their success on his home front.

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Phang now owns three Durio stands within HCMC and is planning to open another one as well as adding two more durian-based dishes to his menu.

174 Phan Xich Long, Phu Nhuan
Kiot Le Thi Rieng Park, 875 Cach Mang Thang Tam, D10

Xoi La Chuoi
At first glance, Xoi La Chuoi’s (Sticky Rice Banana Leaf) concept resembles countless sticky rice carts all around the city with the only difference being that instead of being sold in styrofoam boxes, the sticky rice is wrapped in layers of fresh banana leaves. This tiny deviation is the reason behind the franchise’s success.

“People grew tired of eating sticky rice in toxic foam boxes. In one sentence, Xoi La Chuoi is a return to the classic Vietnamese dish in its original form,” says Hang, a long time employee. Owner and founder Ngo Thi Quynh Mai, like many other rural immigrants to Saigon, disliked the taste and packaging of the urban version of sticky rice.

During her college years, she started creating her own version with traditional ingredients wrapped in fresh banana leaves. Much to her surprise, her homemade sticky rice grew popular. When Mai finished her degree in 2010, she decided to take the leap and opened her first Xoi La Chuoi stand. The first one was small and sold only a handful of sticky rice dishes with prices aimed mainly at college students and laborers. It was the start of the hugely popular authentic Vietnamese brand. Eventually, the menu grew to several more types of sticky rice and soups. The chain currently has over 30 stands and restaurants.

114 Chau Van Liem, D5
220 Phan Dinh Phung, Phu Nhuan
379 Hoang Van Thu, Tan Binh

A Chain Reaction - Image by Nam Quan 6

Urban Station
Two months ago in June 2013, Urban Station celebrated its second birthday to the fanfare of its many loyal customers. As its name suggests, it bills itself as a cafe for young and busy urbanites, a stopover caffeine fueling station on the side of fast moving lanes. It is known for its trendy design and a moderate menu of Italian coffee, sodas, and smoothies. The prices run around VND15,000 – VND25,000 which, coupled with friendly service, make it an attractive hangout.

“We saw that there was nothing out there for young people who simply wanted a cheap, regular place to hang out,” explains Nguyen Hai Ninh, Cofounder and CEO of Urban Station. “The usual garden or boutique cafes were too expensive and didn’t really cater to us specifically. It used to be that young Vietnamese would only go out once in a while. The market was completely empty. We wanted to create something different.”

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The story of how Urban Station came to be is a classic rags to riches tale. The idea was bounced around by five Vietnamese college students and the startup fund was scraped together from part-time job earnings and personal savings. In the first year, losses and mismanagement from a lack of experience saw the departure of three of the original five. The two who stayed learned from their mistakes and adjusted accordingly and Urban Station persevered and grew.

Urban Station is now among the top five fastest developing cafe brands in the country. It has 15 branches in HCMC, Vung Tau and Da Lat and is set to establish a countrywide network.

79 Tran Hung Dao, D5
27 Hoa Su, Phu Nhuan
229 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Binh Thanh

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