Pandemic won’t stop Brisbane’s Little Green Cyclo from sharing Vietnamese food and coffee | Peninsula Foodist | The peninsula foodist


By Anthony Shu

Monica Wong (left), CEO of Little Green Cyclo, and Executive Chef Quynh Nguyen. Photo courtesy of Little Green Cyclo.

Visit Monica Wong, CEO of Little Green Cyclo, and her life and business partner, Executive Chef Quynh Nguyen, at a trade show and you’ll come face to face with a shiny metallic trophy, a New Product Award from the Specialty Food Association. However, this honor only marks the beginning of the team’s latest journey, a quest to answer a question they constantly face: “What makes your coffee Vietnamese?” »

Little Green Cyclo was part of the Bay Area’s first wave of social media-fueled food trucks distributing Vietnamese food beginning in 2010. A decade later, Wong and Nguyen had just opened their brand new brick and mortar bistro in Brisbane when restaurants were closed due to the pandemic. Constantly inventing new ways to reach their customers, Wong and Nguyen turned their attention to developing their now award-winning canned Vietnamese coffee.

Wong, whose parents operated one of Boston’s first Chinese restaurants, always wanted to distance himself from the industry that dominated his parents’ lives. Instead, she built a career in finance and managed billion-dollar portfolios while living in New York. However, she worried about her career progression as she rose through the ranks, but mostly saw white men controlling leadership positions.

Having developed an interest in entrepreneurship, Wong decided to start her own business, knowing she could always return to finance. Finally ready to step into the restaurant space, Wong recalled a lesson in observing her family’s restaurant. “You really shouldn’t be in the restaurant business unless you have a chef,” she says.

A friend who served as Nguyen’s business partner proposed a meeting between the prospective partners, and Wong went to dinner at Nguyen’s Cajun fusion restaurant in San Jose, Gumbo Jumbo, which made sticky, spicy Viet-Cajun seafood porridges. alongside jambalaya and donuts.

Nguyen and Wong quickly bonded over a similar approach to food. “We wanted to serve food to people that we would be proud to serve friends and family…we both shared the same goals of wanting to be very transparent about sourcing,” Wong says. To date, Little Green Cyclo lists the names of its “local, sustainable and organic” sourcing partners on its website, including Snake River Farms, known for American wagyu, and Jidori, which raises free-range chicken here in California. .

Over the years, Little Green Cyclo has grown into a business with a commercial kitchen, three food trucks, smart vending machines stocked with take-out salads, and lines of packaged goods. Customers eagerly await staples like banh mi, baguettes filled here with options like lemongrass roast pork, the Bay Area favorite, garlic noodles and Vietnamese iced coffee, cà phê s?a ?á. Nguyen has also developed hundreds of rotating specialties over the past decade, including sweet potatoes served with tamarind plum sauce and Thai tea cheesecake.

“It was really a natural progression. If you think about it, what does the food truck do? It brings food to customers. So when we pop up, when we do catering, you really don’t come to we go to you,” Wong says of the company’s various business ventures.

This focus on having their products consistently available to customers led Wong and Nguyen to turn to a canned Vietnamese coffee product. In 2019, Nguyen began having discussions with farms in Vietnam about sourcing coffee beans directly from them. The duo is inspired by a movement of family farms that are moving away from industrial techniques focused solely on performance and profitability.

Little Green Cyclo’s Vietnamese canned coffee is available in four flavors and is brewed with Vietnam-grown robusta beans. Photo courtesy of Little Green Cyclo.

Vietnamese coffee can be loosely defined as slow brewed coffee with a metal drip filter known as a phin, and is usually served over ice with sweetened condensed milk. Some Vietnamese American families might turn to New Orleans institution Café Du Monde’s chicory-flavored coffee and its bright yellow tins when brewing a cup. However, according to Wong and Nguyen, making real Vietnamese coffee means using robusta beans grown in Vietnam. The country is the world’s second largest producer of coffee and the largest producer of robusta beans, which are known for their often bold and bitter flavor profiles. Nguyen says Vietnamese coffee really shines when the intense sweetness of condensed milk balances the potentially overwhelming flavor of these beans.

Little Green Cyclo now offers four different flavors of Vietnamese canned coffee made from beans harvested in the Central Highlands of Vietnam: Classic, Matcha, Plant-Based Coconut, and Plant-Based Mocha. California Organic Condensed Milk brings the sweetness and richness to the drink. However, many Nguyen parents still mix whatever coffee they can find with sweetened condensed milk and call it cà phê s?a?á.

“It’s about educating the public, isn’t it? What makes Vietnamese coffee, Vietnamese coffee? So we would like to continue spreading this message. And also, we want to showcase the versatility of these coffee beans, not just in coffee,” says Wong. In addition to canned coffee, Little Green Cyclo offers coffee-infused hot sauce, chili oil, and spice rubs.

Though thrilled with the success of their canned drink, Wong and Nguyen are looking forward to reopening their Brisbane restaurant in June and hosting an event there to shine a light on the growing crowd of Asian women-led specialty food businesses that they encountered while promoting their coffee. “There is obviously a movement (around) Vietnamese coffee at the moment. So you have Sahra from Nguyen Coffee Supply. You have Copper Cow and then you have Omni Bev, you have us. What’s great is that we should all act together to introduce Vietnamese coffee, really to the world,” says Wong.

Canned coffee from Little Green Cyclo can be purchased in line or at local retailers like Piazza’s, Sigona’s and Draeger’s. Due to inventory issues, Little Green Cyclo is currently out of canned coffee flavors other than Classic, as well as its Chili Oil and Hot Sauce. Check social media for updates.

Small green cyclo bistro, 2000 Sierra Point Parkway, Brisbane; 415-375-1657. Instagram: @lilgreencyclo.

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