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(Image: Yenvy Pham / Courtesy of Hello Em)
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Pho Bac owner opens new Vietnamese specialty coffee shop, Hello Em

Heads up, there's a new Viet roastery in town!

Yenvy Pham, co-owner of Pho Bac Sup Shop, recently stepped into the Vietnamese specialty coffee scene with her coffee shop Hello Em. Opened in January 2021, Hello Em features in-house roasts, Viet snacks and is part of Friends of Little Saigon, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving economic and cultural vitality in the historic neighborhood. The coffee shop itself is located inside Friends of Little Saigon Creative, which also opened last November with the vision of becoming a community gathering space for Viet culture and experience.

After Friends of Little Saigon received funding to open a creative space, Pham recognized the need for something to activate space to encourage people to come. The answer? A specialty coffee shop.

While Pham had no prior background in coffee, her culinary and industry experience prepared her in the best way possible.

"Coming from the food industry, I am very particular in how I want things roasted, how it tastes like and the quality of the bean, and what I was finding wasn't what would do well for me," she said. "I wasn't having real luck with [finding coffee vendors] and realized that I just have to do it myself."

And that's exactly what she did.

With the support of her business partner Nghia Bui, Pham flew to Vietnam searching for the perfect bean.

Bui's family had been in the Viet coffee industry for generations and had their own farms, so Pham was finally able to get the premium robusta beans she had been searching for.

"That was insane," Pham admitted. "That process was extremely volatile, and it still is volatile - we source and import directly, so there is no middle man, it's just us."

Pham shared that Vietnam is the second-largest exporter of robusta beans. While they are usually seen as low-quality beans typically used in instant coffees, specialty robusta beans deserve to be highlighted.

"Usually, the coffee world prizes the arabica bean, which I do too, but Vietnamese specialty is the robusta bean because it holds well in smoke," said Pham. "It is also something that [added flavoring] compliments very well."

While drinks made with arabica beans typically highlight the coffee, like an americano or cortado, robusta beans mix well with other flavors, giving Hello Em the platform needed to experiment with niche, specialty drinks.

Aside from the typical cafe da (iced coffee with condensed milk), Hello Em offers a version of a traditional egg cream mixture created during the Vietnam War, as well as something she calls an "egg cloud."

Hello Em also offers various specialty foods such as mochi cakes and delicious pressed banh mi's.

More than anything, Hello Em highlights the historic creativity and importance of Viet culture in Seattle, not just through their coffee but through their vision and partnership with the Friends of Little Saigon Creative space.

"I grew up in this neighborhood, so being part of the nonprofit has been really important to give our neighbors, and small businesses support and have our Vietnamese identity stay here when it is very common that most minority groups will move out of the city to find more affordable places in the suburbs," said Pham.

"Even though we have satellites of Vietnamese communities outside of Seattle," she said, "Seattle is still our home base since the 70s and 80s when we first arrived, and so the nostalgia of that and our presence is really important here in the main city."

Want to support more small businesses like Hello? We're proud to collaborate with Intentionalist, an online guide that makes it easier for you to find/connect with diverse local businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.

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