Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor



SAVOR VietFive owner Tuan Huynh talks cafe, equity, hot-dog empanadas
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 1195 times since Wed Jun 15, 2022
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Located in an area of Chicago West Loop that includes various restaurants and several fitness venues, VietFive (1116 W. Madison St.; ) certainly stands out—for all the right reasons.

According to owner Tuan Huynh, VietFive is the only spot in the city that makes authentic Vietnamese-style coffee. However, the place offers much more—from a laid-back vibe to events with artists (like American Idol's Manny Torres) to items such as ube latte (which pretty much tastes like cereal milk) to Chicago hot-dog empanadas.

Huynh has led an eventful life, to say the least. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, his family was displaced from Danang City to the rural central highlands of Vietnam. (The family continues to live in Vietnam's Dak Lak province.) He later fled to the United States and grew up in the Midwest, having to deal with incarceration and eventually taking a job at Chicago's Leo Burnett office. Huynh left that job last year to start VietFive.

Windy City Times: First, you've mentioned different events VietFive has hosted. Are you doing anything from Pride Month?

Tuan Huynh: Not yet—but I'm totally down to support. I'd love to do something. But also, I don't just want to be an ally for Pride Month. I'd love to partner with someone for the whole year. I just don't want to ride the coattails of a movement and turn a profit.

WCT: Where did the name 'VietFive' come from?

TH: "Five" is a direct translation of the "nam" in "Vietnam." If you count from one to five—"mot," "hai," "ba," "bon" and "nam"—it means "five." And it's an [homage] to the five siblings. [Points to photo on a wall] That's our first photo in America; my mom was pregnant with my little brother at the time. There were 55 people on a 45-by-15[-foot] boat we escaped on and I was the youngest, at 3. We ended up in a Malaysian refugee camp for five months prior to coming to the U.S.

In numerology, five symbolizes choices and change. In the Biblical context, it means grace. That symbolizes my journey and the coffee's journey—coming from obscurity, in a sense, but so well-known. It's not just condensed milk; it's coffee grown in Vietnam. It's not the proper representation to just say "Vietnamese coffee." When people think of Colombian or Ethiopian coffee, they'll give credit to where it's from; people don't attach Vietnamese coffee to its home.

WCT: Is it also a style of brewing?

TH: Yes—but it's also the style of serving. People in the Western world have become accustomed to consuming Vietnamese coffee over ice with condensed milk. Any coffee can be put in there with condensed milk and be called Vietnamese coffee. But [true] Vietnamese coffee is about where the coffee is from as well—on red volcanic soil on our family's farm. And we import here right here, and we make it every day—and in a way that people get the full impact of the coffee, seven days a week. I want to give authenticity to our coffee.

And we have much more than coffee. For example, our empanadas have traditional Vietnamese items as well unique culinary approaches, but they're put into an empanada. It translates to "grab and go."

WCT: When the pastry chef approached you about a Chicago hot-dog empanada, what did you say?

TH: I trust Michael. There has to be a level of trust there.

WCT: You have a pretty cool menu. Do you see that changing?

TH: I'm sure we'll adapt, adjust and refine it. We have ice cream, pastries and other things—but we'll keep the [wall menu] short.

WCT: Switching gears, I've noticed that you also try to help the community.

TH: Yes. I'm with Chicago Peace [which aims to bring positive, collaborative and sustainable change to Chicago neighborhoods in need of revitalization, according to its website]. I want to impact the city, but I'm not a politician. I want to bring about change with the work I do outside of VietFive—but, even here, we create opportunity, access and a sense of community, and have community-centered events. There are no barriers in what we want to create. I want this place to be welcoming and for everyone to feel accepted. Also, I use agency [Leo Burnett] connections to provide opportunities for others.

I know the blessings I've received, and I want to pass things on to others. I want to leave a legacy my family can be proud of.

Also, there's this very negative concept about Chicago. I know this sounds audacious, but imagine Chicago being the safest place to live in America.

WCT: You have said that you don't believe in equality, but you believe in equity.

TH: Yes; they're not the same thing. There's always fighting when you talk about equality. Why is it that liberation is still in question? It took two months to pass the "Stop Asian Hate" bill but it took years to pass the [Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill]. Do you think that's equality? No, it isn't. Equality doesn't exist. The best thing to do [to even things] is through ownership. You can't slay a dragon with a turtle. There's a lot of hypocrisy out there.

And respect is very important. Love thy neighbor as thyself. For me, there are no barriers to love; I love all my brothers and sisters—and I need to keep up with what's news [regarding non-binary people]. Sometimes I'll say, "What's up, man?"—but I don't mean anything by it. If I realize I made a mistake, I'll immediately say, "I'm sorry." You have to be aware of the culture.

WCT: With everything that's happened since 2020, what have you learned about yourself?

TH: [Smiles] That's a deep question.

I think what I've learned about myself is that I still have a lot of room to grow. I've lost a lot of my adult life; June 21 will mark my 11th year of freedom [since being incarcerated in Kansas]. That was a moment of discovery for me, because quarantine is nothing compared to [jail time]. For the longest time, I was trying to play catch-up—but I realized, in the last year, that I'm tired of playing that. I'm present and accepting; that's why I've become more comfortable in telling my story.

WCT: What do you want customers to take away from VietFive?

TH: Goodness. [Editor's note: "Five" also means goodness, in the Biblical context.] I want people to get goodness from the vibes we put out, the items they buy and the relationships we establish.

This article shared 1195 times since Wed Jun 15, 2022
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

SAVOR The Hen of Lincoln Park 2022-11-20
- There are several reasons that The Hen of Lincoln Park (2423 N. Clark St.; is a popular brunch spot. Nested in the heart of—surprise!—Lincoln Park, this casual spot is in a location that draws a ...

Gay News

SAVOR Celebrity Chef Ball; 'Chefsgiving'; Ralph's Coffee 2022-11-18
- More than 50 top Chicago chefs—including many Michelin, James Beard, and Bib Gourmand awardees—worked together to create a truly unique experience for supporters of Meals on Wheels Chicago (MoWC). Because of their hard work and the ...

Gay News

SAVOR Tabu 2022-11-06
- The West Loop has no shortage of tantalizing brunches to try each weekend. Add Tabu's (401 N. Morgan St.; to the mix. This pan-Latin spot ...

Gay News

SAVOR Matcha Cita 2022-10-31
- Just steps from the Morgan stop on the Pink and Green lines is a heavenly place. And if you don't believe this writer about Matcha Cita (1017 W. Lake St., with an additional spot at Studio ...

Gay News

Five Worth Finding: COVID book, 'Wicked' cocktails, 'A Taste of Hope' and more 2022-10-24
- —COVID-19, the LGBTQIA+ Community and Public Policy: As studies emerge to help us understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on every facet of modern life, it is critical that the effect of the pandemic on ...

Gay News

BOOKS Lesbian co-author discusses 'No More Police: A Case for Abolition' 2022-10-18
- "We don't need all the answers to start down the road toward where we want to go: a world where everyone has safety, food, clean water, shelter, education, health, art, beauty, and rest."—No More Police: A ...

Gay News

SAVOR Plant-based spot Planta Queen 2022-10-07
- I will admit it: I was skeptical about dining at the River North spot Planta Queen (413 N. Clark St.; Although I do love my meat, I have occasionally ...

Gay News

SAVOR Hundreds attend Chicago Gourmet 2022-09-30
- Hundreds of people attended this year's Chicago Gourmet, one of the nation's most distinguished culinary festivals. Founding partner Illinois Restaurant Association, along with presenting sponsor Southern Glazer's Wine & Spirits ...

Gay News

SAVOR Latin Restaurant Weeks running Sept. 16-30 2022-09-14
- Latin Restaurant Weeks (LRW) will take place Sept. 16-30 in various cities, including Chicago. Illinois has the nation's fifth-largest Hispanic population; Chicago has more than 29% of people who identify as Hispanic. LRW partners with Hispani ...

Gay News

SAVOR Fogo de Chao; chef fundraisers 2022-09-12
- Brazilian steakhouses utilize that all-too-familiar U.S. restaurant theme: Eat until you can't consume any more. Fogo de Chao—roughly meaning "ground fire," a reference to the gaucho method of roasting meats over an open fire—is one of ...

Gay News

SAVOR Indian gastropub Bar Goa 2022-08-29
- The Indian state of Goa is known for many things, including tourism. Water-sport enthusiasts and partygoers often visit the area, partaking in activities such as jet-skiing, surfing, marveling at the wonders in the National Institute of ...

Gay News

Chicago Fire FC, Dawn to host Aug. 31 volunteer community event at Greater Chicago Food Depository 2022-08-25
-- From a press release - CHICAGO (August 25, 2022) — Chicago Fire FC will host a volunteer event, alongside dish-liquid company Dawn® at the Greater Chicago Food Depository Club on Wed., Aug. 31, at the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. ...

Gay News

SAVOR Whiskey distillery Judson & Moore 2022-08-20
- Along the north side of the Chicago River—in the event space known as Rockwell on the River—sits Judson & Moore (3057 N. Rockwell St.;—a whiskey distillery full of welcoming ...

Gay News

STAYCATION REVIEW Sofitel Chicago 2022-08-17
- Bonjour! If you're like me, you've walked past the Sofitel Chicago Magnificent Mile (20 E. Chestnut St.; a million times. You've probably also admired the hotel's unique architecture almost ...

Gay News

Taste of Greektown festival returns to Chicago Aug. 26-28 2022-08-14
-- From a press release - CHICAGO—Greektown Chicago's Taste of Greektown festival returns for its 32nd year this summer with the city's largest celebration of Hellenic cuisine and culture on Friday-Sunday, Aug. 26-28 along Halsted Street from Adams to Van Buren. The ...


Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.