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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 21, 2020
Pham Khanh Hiep doesn't see his new Vietnamese café ALAMBÉ in Charlottetown as competing with other coffee vendors.
Instead, he wants to give Islanders more choice and the chance to experience something different – the unique flavour of Vietnamese coffee.
"There's a big gap in the coffee market - not as strong coffee," he said inside the new café at 119 Kent St., which opened Aug. 3 in the building next to the Humble Barber.
"A unique flavour the market (wasn't) having here yet."
With social distancing rules in place, he can seat 15 to 20 people at a time inside the café. Hiep has four employees and is looking to hire a couple more, especially people with knowledge of local culture and "love coffee," he said.
Hanging in the window near the café's entrance is a decoration made by one of his daughters out of recycled and repurposed material.
Vietnam is the second-largest coffee producing country in the world (next to Brazil). Hiep has six varieties of ALAMBÉ coffee with different strengths for sale in bags and cups for customers. The coffee is made from Robusta beans, which are native to Vietnam, Arabica beans, or different blends of the two. Compared to Arabica coffee, Robusta is stronger and less acidic. The blends of coffee are a first step to the stronger Vietnamese coffee, he said.
Besides coffee, the café also sells lattes, cappuccinos, espresso and different types of tea as well as pastry, subs, sandwiches and bakery items for customers to have with their beverage. His wife helps out with some of the baking, but Hiep also has supply agreements with P.E.I.'s Buns and Things and ADL (for dairy).
ALAMBÉ is also the name of the large coffee roasting and supply business Hiep founded and owns in Saigon. He imports the coffee from that facility, which in a COVID-19 world, has posed some challenges. He pays more to have items shipped here than pre-COVID-19, and initially, there were delays receiving shipments, although now it only takes a couple of weeks.
COVID-19 also disrupted his original plan to open in late April. Even so, he's happy to have the business up and running. Along the way, Hiep has received support from the P.E.I. Connectors program (through the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce), which helps newcomers grow their business on the Island. He has also received support from his landlord Dyne Holdings by participating in the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program to help with rent payments.
Hiep moved to Charlottetown from Saigon about a year ago with his wife Minh, daughters Tam and Thy, and son Thach.
Besides helping out with the cooking at the cafe, Minh has also been working at improving her English language skills. This work has paid off as she was recently accepted into Holland College's hospitality program. Hiep's children are also improving their English language skills, and are actively involved with badminton.
Although he understands that tourism will eventually play a role in his business, right now Hiep is more focussed on encouraging locals to try his brand of coffee.
And, even though he has only been open a couple of days, Hiep is already seeing repeat customers, including one who returned to the café with a bouquet of white roses to say thanks.
"It's just lovely," Hiep said.