Despite a quintessentially Scottish name, famous for the castle sitting on the bonny banks of Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands, Johann Urquhart was born and lived in Munich, Germany until going to England to complete his education.
He studied sport psychology at Bournemouth University on the English south coast before being offered the position of head of physical education at a secondary school in Uganda, taking responsibility for preparing the theoretical aspects of the course as well as teaching students from primary to sixth form.
After completing a year’s contract with the school during the job placement year of his university course, Johann opted to stay for a further year, recognising the value of experience when job hunting in an increasing competitive employment market. A year later he returned to the UK to complete his degree with plans for then doing a post graduate certificate in education.
He wasn’t accepted on to the course so booked a one-way ticket to Bangkok instead, traveling with a friend to visit Laos and the islands of Thailand before exploring Cambodia and Vietnam. Once here, he said good-bye to his friend, bought a bike and set off traveling up the country visiting Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Phong Nga before arriving at the backpacker hostels of Hanoi.
Johann spent the next four years working at the hostels, starting as a tour guide for visiting travellers and then becoming general manager for Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in downtown Hanoi, the largest hostel in the city at the time with more than 200 beds.
He enjoyed the wild lifestyle the role offered, meeting people with different backgrounds and cultures, helping them plan itineraries for their trips and sharing his experiences of travelling around Southeast Asia. Meeting new people constantly, forming friendships, saving money and living a great life in a beautiful country, there was little motivation to go home, but eventually boredom set in and he started to look for new opportunities.
He spent a few months running a hostel in Sapa, and another in Hoi An before once again buying a motorbike and setting off on an adventure. It was then he was approached by a friend who asked of he wanted to partner in a new hostel in Ho Chi Minh City’s infamous backpacker district, Pham Ngu Lao.
Johann moved to Ho Chi Minh City in 2016, setting up the hostel, this time as a partner rather than an employee. The city offered a completely different experience to his time in Hanoi, “the pace and work ethic was different and people have a difference work focus – fast moving, more modern and less focused on traditions,” he said. He also found the Saigonese more open and welcoming to foreigners.
Despite enjoying life in a new city, a sharp learning curve, demanding role and the constant challenge of finding new staff meant that after a year running another successful hostel, Johann once again felt drained and wanted to move on.
He met his partner, Minnie Lam, in 2017 and with both having strong backgrounds in the hospitality and food and beverage sectors they decided to do something together. Brainstorming ideas they decided on a bar or restaurant and, teaming up with Michel Bensadoun to open Tap Out on the up-and-coming Cong Quynh street.
The location for their venture together was found randomly and they took ownership in April this year. Having spent time running the hostel in Pham Ngu Lao, Johann had seen gaps in the market for tourist and locals, especially for quality smoked meats and cocktails.
He has also brought ideas from Europe that haven’t been seen here yet, including soon-to-be-installed table taps where you can help yourself to beers. Each table in the bar has a tap and a tablet to sign in. As you pour your beer an app tells you how much you’ve drunk, as well as what the tables around you have drunk if you’re feeling competitive, and then at the end of the evening you pay for your consumption by credit card.
The newly opened Tap Out is an up-market venue in an area better known for its low quality food and cheap beer. Johann said running a hostel in Pham Ngu Lao had taught him that not all visitors are low budget backpackers. Many want the choice of an up-market bar and restaurant with a quality menu, beer and cocktails.
He described his latest venture as a sports bar away from the noise and chaos of nearby Bui Vien. The bar plays all the main sports so you can watch the games without having to leave the table for more beer. The food is on point, not fine dining like other venues around the city, but well prepared with options that appeal to a wide audience. Think ribs, burgers and wings.
Tap Out is designed to appeal to locals as well as non-budget tourists. Sitting on the edge of Ho Chi Minh’s expanding backpacker district, Johann has chosen a location that’s starting to attract new business, with bars, restaurants and cafes opening up shop away from the nearby madness.
The bar also attracts the expat crowd who normally avoid Bui Vien, but like the convenience of the Pham Ngu Lao area and the varied clientele that comes with it. Continuing his career in the hospitality, providing a warm welcome in a social environment, Johann is is moving from one success to the next, and new projects are already being discussed. Watch this space.