How a Local Vietnamese Cafe Survived and Thrived During a Pandemic

“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” 

—Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

How have local family restaurants adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic? In part one of our restaurant series, Richmond Food Stories had the opportunity to chat with Braxton Nomura, Marketing and Operations Manager of Bánh Mì Très Bon, an award-winning Vietnamese restaurant located in Richmond’s Central at Garden City mall. 

Bánh Mì Très Bon, established in 2016, is especially well-known for their Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, pho soup noodles, and a variety of unique appetizers that speak to the influence of French culture on Vietnamese cuisine. The restaurant’s owner, Lan Do, left her corporate career in the tech world to explore her passion in cooking. Having grown up in a Sino-Vietnamese household, her family cooked a variety of Vietnamese dishes at home. She noticed the lack of diversity in Vancouver’s Vietnamese cuisine. After quitting her job, Lan pursued a one-year sabbatical to conduct research and culinary training in Vietnam, recreating many of the regional Vietnamese recipes that she remembered from her childhood. 

Lan Do and Braxton Nomura. Photo courtesy of Banh Mi Tres Bon.
Lan Do and Braxton Nomura. Photo courtesy of Bánh Mì Très Bon.

Braxton joined the Bánh Mì Très Bon since the inception of the business when he was pursuing post-secondary education in Marketing. “Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as my career, but I always had a business mind,” explains Braxton, “so I took marketing in Langara, and ended up working for Lan to learn restaurant marketing. I started off as a bánh mì maker, and slowly rose up the ranks to become in charge of marketing and operations of the store.” 

In Fall 2019, the restaurant took on a major renovation and expansion project, which doubled the capacity of their kitchen and dining area. They were also early adopters of online food ordering and delivery platforms, which helped them adjust quickly during the start of the pandemic. 

Bánh Mì Très Bon kitchen staff preparing community meals for partner organizations. Photo courtesy of Bánh Mì Très Bon.
Bánh Mì Très Bon kitchen staff preparing community meals for partner organizations. Photo courtesy of Bánh Mì Très Bon.

“Ever since the pandemic began, customers want convenient and safer ways to get food. We’re always looking for ways to make the dining process more enjoyable and efficient for customers, while ensuring that we maintain top notch food quality standards.”

According to Braxton, the cost of food has skyrocketed over the last few years.  This has made it more challenging to find reasonably priced ingredients, because Bánh Mì Très Bon always aims to serve the highest quality ingredients. Although the margins are lower now, they are focused on keeping their staff employed and keeping the business going.

“2020 is the catalyst for changing the way restaurants do business. Our business managed to bob and weave through COVID, but also had to close temporarily. It was a learning curve.” 

— Braxton Nomura

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Bánh Mì Très Bon had the opportunity to work with “Feed the Front Line Canada” and provided several hundred banh mi sandwiches to healthcare workers, such as the St. Paul’s Hospital medical team. They collaborated with “Feeding Our Frontlines” too, which was a UBC & SFU student-led initiative to provide meals to local seniors home and hospital workers. The kitchen also worked with Richmond Food Security, which sent them fresh produce from local community farms so they could cook meals for local families in need, including everything from sandwiches and burritos to pasta. 

Bánh Mì Très Bon staff preparing sandwich donations for health care workers. Photo courtesy of Bánh Mì Très Bon.
Bánh Mì Très Bon staff preparing sandwich donations for health care workers. Photo courtesy of Bánh Mì Très Bon.

“Our philosophy is, no matter what situation we are in, there are always people in need. Even though the pandemic hit us hard, it hit a lot of people even harder. We just focused on the community’s needs and reached out to help others.” 

Despite the many challenges that 2020 has presented to this small business, the team has remained focused on keeping the business sustainable, while investing time to innovate new menu items. They also have plans to expand their business into other markets to bring high quality Vietnamese food to their followers in other parts of the Lower Mainland. 

“We want to continue to make things exciting and comforting for everyone, so stay tuned for that!”

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