Chef Chat, Part 1: Minh Nguyen of Café TH (formerly Thiem Hung)
Eating Our Words recently caught up with Minh Nguyen of Café TH, formerly known as Thiem Hung, to discuss transitioning the business from the former owners and his 5-year vision for the place.
EOW: I understand that when you purchased Thiem Hung from the previous owners, you had to learn all their recipes. What was that process like?
Nguyen: The process was like learning how to ride a bike without the training wheels. So it was very interesting. To give you a little more history, I worked with my ex-partners for a year and a half. So for the first six months, I worked on the finance and marketing side, polishing it up a bit from what it used to look like. Then over the last year we worked together, they would slowly show me what I needed to learn about the recipes and ingredients. In the last two months, when it hit me that they'll be gone and I'll be taking it over, I really focused. But things were tricky because they were so set in their ways that they were reluctant to release some of their secrets. So they taught me what they did. If it tasted good to me, then I would keep it. If it didn't, then I would change it to how I liked it.
EOW: So you weren't lucky enough to get a stack of papers with the recipes.
Nguyen: Oh no, not at all. I'm very detail-oriented. Not having a set recipe was frustrating, especially with purchasing ingredients where one week you get 50 pounds of pork shoulder and the next week it's 120 pounds. My ex-partners didn't write anything down because it was all engrained in their heads. So early on there was a lot of estimation on my part. Like the bones for pho, they can come in 30 pounds or 80 pounds. Now I know to separate things out, but my ex-partners would just cook up the whole batch. Sometimes it was a big pot and sometimes it was a smaller pot. So again, it was like being thrown on a bike. I learned what they taught me and then discovered what worked better. I've changed up a lot of the processes they taught me. I know for a fact that what I do now is fresher.
EOW: Tell me about where you see Café TH in 5 years.
Nguyen: I see this place being the nucleus or the main point of contact for our future, be that Café TH or Café TH Expresses. We have a Café TH Express location right now inside of a Fiesta by Reliant Stadium. That location is going on its second year and has been doing well. Hopefully in five years, there will be three or four locations total. But first and foremost is making sure we have this [2108 Pease] location running as smoothly and efficiently as possible while maintaining our freshness.
Come back tomorrow to learn about the obstacles to running a restaurant in a dead Chinatown and why the banh mi is so good.