Welcome to Plant Basting Talks, where we interview entrepreneurs in the vegan-friendly space about their story, what they’ve learned thus far, their business model, and revenue numbers.
In this fourth interview, Lynh Pham, owner of Angie's Viet Cuisine shares:
- How she successfully shifted her business model
- The importance of talking to other vendors and small business owners
- Why online resources like YouTube have been invaluable learning tools
- The benefits of having over 15 years of restaurant management experience
1. What influenced you to start Angie’s Viet Cuisine?
I have always loved to cook. Something about taking a bunch of ingredients and combining them into a delicious meal that I always found comforting. I started working in the restaurant industry as a way to pay for college and fell in love with restaurant operations.
I worked in restaurant management for nearly 16 years and I constantly struggled with work-life balance.
After a cancer diagnosis in 2017, I told myself that life was too short to pour all my passion and energy into someone else's business. Took a few years to save and plan, but I now put the same passion and energy into my own brand.
2. What were the critical steps you took to start?
Research. Research. Research. Not just online research, but talking to other small business owners and asking them how they did it or what they would have done differently. I wasn't nervous about daily operations or cooking. I knew I had a handle on that, but the licensing required, the financing, and the bookkeeping— I consulted a lawyer and an accountant for all of that.
3. How did you get your first customers?
My first customers were mostly friends and family. Some were my husband's coworkers. Since I was operating as a ghost kitchen (delivery only, with no store front), I used social media to reach potential customers and I took advantage of the promotions on DoorDash, UberEats, and GrubHub.
4. How have you continued to grow your customer base?
As a ghost kitchen, I had to drive potential customers to my digital storefronts on the delivery apps. I started off by handing out samples with my menu and business card.
I searched for vendor opportunities to increase exposure of my brand. One vending opportunity turned into two, then three.
I started doing more and more pop-ups at breweries, markets, and festivals.
5. What is the business model of Angie’s Viet Cuisine?
My business model has evolved. What started as a pick-up or delivery only ghost kitchen has turned into a mobile vendor and caterer.
I initially wanted to grow into a brick-and-mortar, but sticking to mobile operations as a lunch truck looks more likely.
6. What is your monthly revenue and how have you grown it?
I have only been in operations for just a bit over 3 months. The first month I operated as a ghost kitchen only and relied heavily on friends and family. I probably averaged $80 in sales per day at the start and I was only open 4 days a week. I saw a decrease in sales as a ghost kitchen the second month since I wasn't consistently open due to accepting vending opportunities.
About a month ago, I decided to shift and focus only on pop-ups.
I invested in some marketing items (like my branded tablecloth) and some equipment (like my propane fryer). Now I average $400 each event and I do about 4 events a week.
7. How do you decide on pricing of your menu? Have rising prices or shortages of supplies affected Angie’s?
This is where 16 years of management comes in. I have spreadsheets that list out recipes, ingredient cost, yield, and in turn how much it costs for me to make certain items. On average I run a 25% food cost. In other words, 25% of my sales went to buy the ingredients I used.
At the start, I had to take chicken wings off my menu since the price doubled.
Now as a mobile vendor, I have to source paper products. I try my best to source environmentally friendly containers and wares, but there have been shortages. Sometimes I have to go to multiple stores to find the containers I need.
8. Is it important to you that your business is vegan-friendly?
My mission as a restaurant owner is to make Vietnamese cuisine accessible and approachable. Many of the authentic dishes that I grew up eating include pork and shrimp. I know people who don't eat either.
In order to ensure my food is accessible and approachable to everyone, I have to make adjustments to those dishes. Using the same spices and flavors, I remove the pork and shrimp and explore other options.
My first menu relied heavily on the use of tofu, but I have since started using plant-based meat substitutes or just sticking to vegetables.
9. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome?
The biggest challenge was deciding to shift my business model. It felt a bit like I was accepting defeat. I was so focused on getting my ghost kitchen successful so I could move into a brick-and-mortar that I never considered other routes or avenues.
10. Have you found anything (resource, book, skill, habit, or bit of knowledge) that’s been valuable or useful for your entrepreneurial journey?
Honestly? YouTube. I have found a wealth of information. I found help with writing business plans to bookkeeping to editing Instagram and TikTok videos. What has been more useful than that has simply been talking to other vendors at events. Networking has been my main way to getting myself to 4-5 events a week.
11. How do you tend to your mental health as a business owner?
I still struggle with this one, but my family will tell you that I have gotten much better at it.
Back when I was a restaurant manager, I missed so many things.
Unfortunately, important things like family dinners and doctor's appointments. After my diagnosis, I definitely don't miss any more doctor appointments. I go to the gym. We have game night and movie night once a week. Recently my husband told me, "you do what you can and what you can't do: you don't." So I try my best to remind myself that.
12. Any advice for entrepreneurs just starting out in the vegan-friendly space?
Educate yourself on what is actually vegan-friendly. Researching online works, but connecting with people is the best way. I have been lucky enough to have friends who are vegan and help me when I have questions about certain ingredients.
13. Where can we go to learn more about you and Angie’s?
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