With its fresh ingredients, funky grafitti and French fries, this hipster hangout might just be the next big thing. By Lorcan Lovett. Photos by Vinh Dao.
The hipster intelligentsia has been twiddling their ironic handlebar moustaches and scratching their 80s hip-hop bucket hats, plotting how best to infiltrate the oblivious Vietnam.
And now we have it in the form of Pop Fries, a ludicrously simple concept that has the legs to become a beloved chain for cool kids across Asia. Its recipe for eventual world domination? French fries topped with fresh flavours inspired by Asia, the Americas and Europe.
It spawned from a challenge to Calvin Bui, 37, who has been running a film production company and talent agency with his business partner Petey Majik for the past three years.
A friend tasked Bui to create a business based on one ingredient and open 50 stores in the next five years. The first was launched four months ago in Thao Dien and another has since opened in Phu Nhuan District. Bui says he aims to open 10 in Vietnam and then concentrate on other Southeast Asian countries.
It may just be the most ambitious plan centred on potatoes that the world has ever seen.
The vision, however, does not take priority over the food but rather embraces it. Bui has the culinary stripes to make good food, gaining years of experience in the kitchens of San Francisco.
Pining to be a chef once again, he took staples from Korea, Japan, Italy and Mexico, reminiscent of the mingling cultures that thrive in The City By The Bay.
Loca Fries are likely to become a favourite, using a satisfying mix of chicken breast, salsa, garlic white sauce, pickled green chilli and cilantro.
Although there are more dishes planned, the other three on the menu at the time this was written included Korilla Fries (pulled pork, kimchi, green onion and Gochujang BBQ Sauce), Japa Fries (beef curry with the spice mixture togarashi and green onion) and the vegetarian choice of Parma Fries (eggplant, tomato cream sauce and Parmesan cheese).
All four choices cost VND 79,000 while fries alone cost VND 49,000 and can be enjoyed with some of the homemade curry ketchup, garlic mayo or delicious sriracha sauce.
A soda or water cost VND 20,000 and a beer VND 30,000. You can even make your stamp on Pop Fries nascent story by gorging yourself on 1.5kg of fries for VND 499,000 and getting your picture up on the wall (yay, well done you) along with some Pop Fries merchandise.
The quality food is eaten in-house on the communal tables. To-go orders are available but not recommended and to avoid soggy fries there’s no delivery service.
“When it came to the food, to the promotion, to the concept,” says Bui. “It was all based around friends getting together and sharing a bite to eat.”