Tucked away in Phu Nhuan is PetMe (179 Tran Huy Lieu), a small narrow café attracting curious customers eager for a unique view with their coffee.
From brightly colored parrots and cockatoos to owls and tiny parakeets, there is no shortage of feathers ruffled here. The opportunity to interact with the birds is irresistible, especially since some can cost up to US$2500.
“We knew we were doing something no one had done before in Vietnam but we certainly did not expect for people to like it so much,” says 27-year-old owner Nguyen Ba Le. “Until earlier this year,I was still working full-time as a digital designer. The idea of opening up a café came to me when I thought I had spent enough time in an office job. I wanted to try something new, but opening a company is so restricting. I have always adored parrots since I was a little kid so I thought, ‘Let’s make a place for bird lovers. Let’s make a place for people who have never thought about birds as pets to find out what having one may be like.’”
Most of the birds roam the café freely, flying from shoulders to outstretched arms, even sometimes perching themselves on the café’s stock – harassing the staff for a bit of syrup. The birds are friendly with people, having been trained by Le, and the few chained parrots are new additions that require further training.
“Most people when they come in for the first time expect meek birds in cages or on chains,” Le shares. “But the parrots don’t really behave like birds. They are more like cats or dogs, except they don’t smell. They like to be petted. They like to play with toys and to make trouble. There’s a sweet spot on their heads which if you scratch just right, they absolutely love it.
“They don’t fly around nearly as much as, say, a sparrow would. They like to walk and climb. A couple of our parrots, if you put them down on the ground and leave them alone, will walk to the backroom on their own into their cages and go to sleep like cats.” For Le, the challenges of keeping a bird café are unique – and costly. And in a region where the term “bird flu” can still incite mass panic, Le’s first priority is health and safety for both his flock and his customers.
With no specialized veterinarians or medicine for these specific breeds in Vietnam, they are first vaccinated in Bangkok before being transported to Vietnam, and every three months receive regular checkups. The birds are also rotated in shifts, with only five to seven in the café at one time while the rest receive some downtime and care in the backroom. The entire staff have been educated on how to care for and handle their fellow ‘colleagues.’
“A lot of people come to us nowadays because they read about us in newspapers, see us on TV, or see their friend’s photos with our birds and we have our crowd of loyal customers. Parrots live a surprisingly long time. Small parrots can live up to 30 years while bigger cockatoos can live as many as 80 years. So when you have a parrot as a pet, you effectively have a friend for life.
“To accommodate more guests, we plan to open up a second floor next month where the star feature is a nursery where you can see baby parrots in all their natural glory.”