Today we join Granger Whitelaw and his guest (again), Caroline Nguyen as they follow up on their Monday talk about “Business Lunch” and where to go In Ho Chi Minh. A little twist, Instead of the ‘usual suspects and place’, they are going to share two non-profit Restaurants that not only serve great food, but are helping kids create skills and their futures! So sit back, relax – and enjoy!
Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. Listen to the full episode at link below.
Granger Whitelaw: Good morning.
Granger Whitelaw: here with Friday notes on the Lotus talks. Thanks for joining me. So Monday we were talking with Caroline Nguyen: about business lunch and where to take someone for a business lunch. Caroline is back with us today to speak to us. Caroline, good morning.
Caroline Nguyen: Good morning Granger.
Granger Whitelaw: How was your first week back at work after Tet? Caroline Nguyen: I just said I can say that it’s energetic that I really want to go back to work because I’m, we’re at it.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah, you’re like at your, you’re definitely a work addict. I know you’re kind of like me. We work all the time and it was great seeing you over TET because I was here. You were here. We had a meal or two and some great talks…
Caroline Nguyen: yeah. And enjoy real Saigon. Right – home
Granger Whitelaw: Now you went to mad house. Yeah, we went in the first time. What’d you think about Mad House?
Caroline Nguyen: Mad House last Thursday and I, and I really, really like to see that a lot of local enjoy the meal over there too, so they make a great food,
Granger Whitelaw: the owner said that there was just a ton of Vietnamese eating there too, which is neat. Yeah. I mean, I think as a, an ex-Pat and they’re from Denmark, if you kind of hit the Holy Grail here in Vietnam from an F&B standpoint or any business, it’s when the locals start to buy your products, or eat your food, visit your establishment.
Caroline Nguyen: It does mean you are on the way to be successful.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah. I think you hit it then. Yeah. So yeah, in the Corona virus, this is something that’s got everybody really freaked out right now. if you walk around a Saigon, you see masks everywhere. I mean, you kinda did before when people riding the motorcycles, but now they’re wearing them everywhere. I certainly am wearing my mask. Wash your hands, right. You’re going to the restaurants. We’re talking about where to go. Business lunches and food — wash your hands. And I hope that the people at the restaurants are washing their hands and, and if you’re sick or not feeling well, don’t go out. Don’t go to work.
Caroline Nguyen: Yeah, I agree with that because yeah, this is the first time that my brother have to wear a mask. He don’t look, he not a big fan out masks at all. But yesterday when we was to the shopping mall, I think he’s been, Vincom Center, he wore a mask. I said ‘What are you doing?’ He’s like, the virus sister. Okay. All right. It’s very uncomfortable for him, but we have to,
Granger Whitelaw: yeah, be cautious. Be precautious, take caution, prepare. So, anyway, on, Monday we were talking about a lot of restaurants. I think we really named a lot of great restaurants that you can look at for variety, for business lunches. And you and I talked about this and, you know, we both have kind of a big heart for, for charity and for church and, and, nonprofits. And we decided that we really to profile two organizations today for business lunches that I think are phenomenal choices to take clients to, for lunch. Maybe not your big negotiation client, but clients that you know, and certainly you have a good friendship with or friends in business.
Granger Whitelaw: these organizations are really doing a lot. The first one, is called Koto . It’s a nonprofit for social enterprise that empowers at risk and disadvantage youth in Vietnam through holistic hospitality training program. And the other one is An re Mai sen (Bistro) . So, I have never eaten a Koto and you have, I’ve eaten it An re Mai sen. So we’re going to talk about these two organizations,… but I want to really be clear on this. These are places that are helping disadvantage you, poor families. and had done a lot . Koto had just celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2019. They’ve had a thousand graduates, who are now leading productive lives. they support Koto in Vietnam, the nonprofit here. It’s actually an Australian nonprofit.
Caroline Nguyen: yeah, yeah, that’s right. And some of them was hiring to work in working in other places, like even for the Consul General.
Granger Whitelaw: Australia. Yeah. In the council General’s office and many restaurants. And it’s phenomenal. I, when I read about these organizations, after we started talking about it and seeing that, you know, Koto has hosted Bill Clinton and, queen Margaret’s of Denmark and Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard and many notable people. That’s really neat because that gets the message out, right. That there are ways that you can not only have a fabulous meal, but you could help disadvantaged youth and help the culture. Yeah. What’s cooler than that?
Caroline Nguyen: Cool. Yeah, it the best.
Granger Whitelaw: Like – have a great deal to help people out. So, and then when I went to Anre Maisen, I was with Mike, Mikey, Mikey Brenker, who’s a friend of mine, and he took me to this place. It’s in a church, you know, and I support the churches, you know, and, and, and I, I was like, what is this place And the kids were in, in black tie, dressed very formally. And the place was really neat. I, I was like, wow, this is great. So An re Mai sen, which is right by City Garden at 56 Nguyen Van Lac, Phuong 19, Binh Thanh – really cool place. They have the same type of mission, they help kids with poor families, orphans, ethnic minorities, victims that were affected by agent orange or have mild disabilities and they focus at age 18 to 22. Is Koto the same kind of thing….the same ages?.
Caroline Nguyen: Yes. Koto is the same of thing too. When I first arrive I, really like the atmosphere that they bring to me… it is located in Saigon. It was located in an old Villa.
Granger Whitelaw: Yeah, it’s right. Where is it in, in, in Saigon. Exactly.
Caroline Nguyen: It’s 19 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Da Kao, (D1) street.
Granger Whitelaw: Okay. Okay. So they’re really doing the same thing I know for, for Maisen . they have a three-year training program and teaching and hospitality and how to serve, how to dress cleanliness, you know, all of the things that go into running a restaurant and be a cashier – you shift around – different jobs, so you really learn it and after you graduate and you go and get a job, they, they request the students return that tuition over a 15 year time period. So that’s really cool, right I mean they, they, they give back and that’s how they really fund themselves. And, of course they would take charitable donations. So if you want to learn more about Anre Maisen, it’s www.anremaisen.com , anremaisen.com – Koto on the other hand, obviously it takes a lot of donations. They spend about $7,000 per year on a student. They’re a much bigger international organization, require as much support as well as you can give. So their website is www.koto.com.au and I certainly invite our listeners to go to both of these and learn a little bit about them. But again, these are great places to go to lunch. Yeah. So let’s talk about that. Yeah. Okay. You went to Koto. I have not been. Tell me about your experience.
Caroline Nguyen: My experience with Koto is I booked a table online. I think he’s, through Facebook, it’s quite convenient for me. Then they asking me do I want a LA carte menu or I want a set menu. I said, okay, I wanted to enjoy every single element that I can present to me. You prepare me a business lunch. So I say, okay, it says menu and they send it to me ahead of time and I just pick up like two different kinds. And when I arrived they say, do you have a table – You say yes and it’s all really well prepared – Yeah. And then the food come out
Granger Whitelaw: And did you go with your mother?
Caroline Nguyen: I go one with my mom and one with my clients. So it’s a totally different,
Granger Whitelaw: you showed me a picture of your mother and you were having lunch..
Caroline Nguyen: Yeah, she enjoyed us. She enjoyed it. That’s the most important thing for me. If you enjoy that as means she approve!
Granger Whitelaw: Oh, that’s great.
Caroline Nguyen: Yeah. That’s me. She approved and my client will be happy to,
Granger Whitelaw: we need Moms approval. So, yeah. And the prices, how are the prices
Caroline Nguyen: The prices I think the set menu, exclude the tax is around 200 a little bit more with..Yeah. Really reasonable. And when you are like enjoying your meal, you actually helping a lot of people. So if the taste is not really really good, but you know that is a good cause and on the staff to have room to improve. That’s good. Right
Granger Whitelaw: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. They’re really, it’s great to see them teaching and training in hotel and restaurant management and teaching people how to bake or teaching people how to cater. I know Koto is catering and I think Maisen and I believe is also, which is neat cause that’s kind of a different setup, right — You’re a chef, a cook
Caroline Nguyen: A cook
Granger Whitelaw: and you do cooking classes. Yeah. So when you prepare for a, a, a luncheon, right For a restaurant, you may prepare one way, but certainly when you’re catering to a large group, you prepare differently, right
Caroline Nguyen: Yeah. Differently and serving is hard. Hygiene needs to be like on top of it. well prepare for every problem. If you have – if you have think – you have to prepare, ahead of time. I had of time about that. So I really liked that idea. It was just said, well prepared and everything’s going to be okay. And those people did it well.
Granger Whitelaw: Yes. Yeah, it’s really cool. When I went to, my experience with a An re Mai sen was really neat. I arrived and and they sat us at a table, nice air conditioning, very clean and I was surprised but the view is great. So if you’re looking for a place that with a really cool view, right there on Nguyen Van Lac, in Binh Thanh, but very close to district one, but your, your seats are really, the whole side is windows so you can see all the traffic going by and it’s right at an intersection, right… So it’s a cool part of Binh Thahn.. So you see all this activity. Actually we saw a person on a ladder fixing some of the power lines, you know, the, the spider web of power lines that you see – so I took pictures..
Caroline Nguyen: When I listened to that I wanted to, maybe next time we do a virtual tour or something like that so the audience can feel the atmosphere, right, like that is even more better.
Granger Whitelaw: Absolutely. Oh it was so cool. We sat there and watching all this going on and the kids came out and they’re, they’re so polite and …so I had this great soup. I mean they have great soups there by the way. And I think the French really obviously the, the, the, the, the chefs and the senior people are French based, but you can get some other international cuisine also, there and you can also get Vietnamese food. So I think it’s cool at both of these places.
Caroline Nguyen: those are, the places that have Vietnamese food and Western food, but more is going to be Vietnamese food, which is traditional dish too is not fusion is traditional. So I really like really like it when you want to introduce to your clients, like the truly Vietnamese food, they have an option for you over there.
Granger Whitelaw: Absolutely. I think my soup was like 40,000 Dong or something or 50,000. And then I had a beautiful piece of, fish with some rice and some broccoli. And that was probably, I don’t know, 120,000 Dong. I think the whole meal cost me 150,000, 170,000 Dong. And then we gave the kid a tip, really incredible food. I mean, literally it was one of the best restaurants, best meals I’ve had for lunch anywhere. And and I’d go back there all the time. I, as I said today, let’s go there for lunch. You know, it’s a great place An re Mai sen and I’m sure Koto the food is as equally as high. Yeah.
Caroline Nguyen: Yeah. Great quality too. And I’m, I’m really happy because I heard that one month the student who graduated from Koto actually working for very famous people around the City, so they have room to improve the knowledge and even learn from another chef because my friend who is also named Caroline, she working for the consul General of Australia and
Granger Whitelaw: well I know Caroline,
Caroline Nguyen: you know Caroline at the Fireworks party (place)
Caroline Nguyen: So she really sweet and she when she, on a duty and she have no one to help her, she would ask for some student from Koto to have to come over to help and they do a fantastic job. So see, it’s really, really nice.
Granger Whitelaw: Oh, that’s neat. Yeah, I mean, what a great thing. That’s really wonderful. I’m going to have to say hi to Caroline and congratulate her for that. Listen, if you’re looking to hire someone for your restaurant, look at Koto international. Look at An re Mai sen, they’re right here in Ho Chi Minh city. Koto also has offices and restaurants in Hanoi, which are really beautiful. so certainly if you’re in Hanoi, if you’re listening to this podcast, look at Koto to hire your next staff because they’re willing, they’re eager, they’re serious, and they, are well trained. And listen, if you’re out there going to lunch, please, if you want to have a great business lunch and you want to give back, as we say at The Lotus – always doing well and doing good is one of our main things. Give back. We love people who give back. Hey, go have a great meal. It’s not expensive. I’m telling you it’s going to be a one of the best meals you’ve had in Vietnam. Take my word for it because I eat a lot. I know what I’m talking about. (hahaha)
Caroline Nguyen: We are serious eaters!
Granger Whitelaw: And Listen to Caroline Nguyen: , when she is the foodie lady of Saigon, she knows what she’s talking about. We are serious eaters, right.. And we all know you all enjoy a meal, a good meal, and giving back to,
Granger Whitelaw: so Caroline, thank you again so much for your time and for doing this segment with me. I’m really excited about this nonprofit, about these restaurants, about these kids, and I’m so glad that you could do it with me.
Caroline Nguyen: Thank you so much for having me again. And now we can go for lunch, right?
Granger Whitelaw: Let’s do it! — Everybody out there. It’s Granger Whitelaw: on Friday notes, Thanks so much for listening. I hope you enjoy this. We hope you have a beautiful, beautiful weekend with your families. Wear masks, wash your hands, watch your hygiene and love your families! Take care everybody.
The Lotus Talks is produced by The Vietnam Group and Hosted by Granger Whitelaw.
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