Living with The Cart – An UpdatePosted: April 15, 2012
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Most of the time that meant delivery to the old Thuy Khue training centre but occasionally I’d be at the restaurant so I’d find a table and order. I never enjoyed it. I always spent my time wondering how long it’d been since table 12 ordered, or was table 5 not enjoying their dish and that glass of wine table 3 received – I thought they’d ask for a beer etc etc.
Normally everyone was just fine and staff were far more capable of keeping tabs on it all than I was. All I added was an on-edge layer of nervousness.
Substitute KOTO in 2004 – 2007 for The Cart 2009 – now and up till recently I was still a little jumpy. It’s intensified as The Cart Nghi Tam, just two minutes from my house, sometimes feels like an overspill of my living room. After all it’s often where I go just to spend time with my hardworking wife.
But what’s great is just how the place now feels like it’s matured. Staff recruited in the wake of opening the branch are proving to be stars. None more so than Hung the former Blue Dragon kid manning the front desk and Doan our baker.
Hung (seen here modelling the KeepCup) is a star, an honest as the day is long and with deceptively good English. I wonder sometimes – did he get that? – he did. Doan, our baker, arrived having worked overseas – the fresh bread he makes has taken the place to a new level.
We’d always envisaged the cafe as a Nghi Tam community place. Too small for a hangout but maybe somewhere to meet up. We’re making new friends as a result of being open – good to see some of our customers doing the same. They too look more comfortable there and we now know a little more about each other. We’ve become part of each other’s routine.
Loan continues to work seven days a week but gratifyingly not quite as many hours. Sister Trang is an irreplaceable member of staff and, as she’s holding down two jobs, we keep trying to lure her full time but her other post is public sector and in Vietnam that’s still considered the most solid career going.
My wife has a very Vietnamese anti-marketing stance. Businesses build. Promotion is expensive. It’s actually suited us and while it may be rooted in a traditional pho-stand sensibility it goes well with modern social media thinking. We’ve tried to avoid any hyperbole on our website. We’ll say it’s fresh – you can decide if you think it’s tasty. Word of mouth has so far promoted a very sustainable growth. From the very outset there’s been a plan to flyer all the local NGOs but, ultimately, we haven’t needed to.
Staff capacity is building at pretty much the same rate as demand and that’s fantastic.
Oh and The Cart Au Trieu has had a little love too. At first the new place stole a few of its customers but now they’re both performing consistently. Although we also know that summer is coming and they’re long and hot and frequently not quite so rewarding. It’s all about spring and autumn in expat land.
Finally it was my 41st birthday yesterday (I was very moved when the flowers below arrived from colleagues) – which is always a good time to reflect. Post Tet holiday, which seems like years ago now, has been a rather stressful period – for a number of reasons I’ll go into another time. But it feels like we’re getting a grip on it all.
Investing our thought and time in The Cart will be an ongoing process – but with it settling nicely, happily it’s one less thing to worry about.