"We had no idea that we'd have so many people coming through the doors. It was completely unexpected," says Thoa Nguyen. And, in fact, the kitchen ran out of bread not once, but several times last week -- a week that marked the opening of New Saigon Bakery & Deli, a sister (literally) operation to New Saigon, Denver's best Vietnamese restaurant, which squats directly next door to the bakery and deli.
Thoa, the daughter of New Saigon owners Ha Pham and Thai Nguyen, opened the bakery and deli with the help of her sister, Thu, last Tuesday, and since then, the joint, which hustles everything from bobas and mochi to biscuits, sixteen variations of bánh mì and beef liver jerky in bins, has seen a constant sea of bodies...many of them waiting for bread. "We keep running out of bread, but we're working on a new system, and now that we've seen how many customers are coming in, we're much better prepared," says Thoa, a pastry chef, who attended both Johnson & Wales and Ecole National Supèrieure de la Pâtisserie, in France before opening the bakery and deli at the ripe old age of 21.
"I knew I wanted to be a pastry chef in high school, and I had the opportunity to study in France, which is where I got the most hands-on experience, learned from the best and realized that this is a profession that requires really, really long hours," says Thoa, who bakes all the cakes and pastries, while her mom and dad spearhead the kitchen.
The contemporary space, which took several months to build, overflows with exotic Vietnamese and Taiwanese foodstuffs -- cashew jerky, lemongrass jerky, shredded spicy quid, spicy sesame fish and tamarind in all guises -- which Thoa calls "snacking items." They, along with multitudes of candies and dried fruits, are all sold by the pound. In addition, the market peddles numerous variations of sticky rice, spring rolls, Vietnamese coffee and teas.
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I stopped in late last week, and while I was waiting for my bánh mì (which was definitely worth the patience), I explored the market, snapping photos of food porn.
Dozens and dozens of bins harboring fun and funky snacks from Vietnam and Taiwan. Fresh papaya salad with beef liver jerky, a sweet sesame seed jerky and basil. Pork paste spring rolls. Bobas. Pork belly bánh mì. Apple strudel pastry. Sticky rice in all colors and flavors. Cashew jerky.