One of Denver's oldest and most esteemed Vietnamese bakeries will soon be serving banh mi sandwiches in a spot that exemplifies the new face of Denver. Vinh Xuong Bakery, owned by the Huynh family, will open its third location inside Zeppelin Station, a multi-use space slated to debut in late 2017 at 3501 Wazee Street — at the foot of the new RTD light-rail pedestrian bridge.
The Huynh family has been in the bakery business in Denver since 1980 and opened the first Vinh Xuong Bakery more than 25 years ago before moving to 375 South Federal Boulevard in the Far East Center. Son Duc Huynh launched the second location at 2370 West Alameda Avenue six years ago; the newer spot, which Duc runs with his sister, Yen, serves as the bakery kitchen for both locations and is fronted by a bright, modern cafe where customers can enjoy espresso drinks, Vietnamese coffee and banh mi sandwiches built on fresh-baked baguettes and stuffed with housemade meats.
But Vinh Xuong offers a much broader cross-section of Vietnamese baked goods and desserts than simply sandwiches. Unlike many modern eateries that sell banh mi as a trendy item alongside other "hot" sandwiches, Vinh Xuong's creations aren't divorced from the rest of Vietnamese food and culture, so you get moon cakes at the right time of year as well as stuffed buns, sesame balls and desserts — many of which are still somewhat of a mystery to Western diners. It's that continuity of tradition while modernizing the presentation that makes the bakery a Denver treasure.
Duc and Yen have steadily built up business at Vinh Xuong over the past six years and just launched a food truck, VX-3, last week. "The food truck was something we were thinking about years ago, but we didn't have the money then," Duc explains. But the idea for a new Zeppelin Station outpost came somewhat out of the blue.
"They approached us at the beginning of the year," he says. The idea was immediately intriguing, and he says he and his sister immediately agreed: "Why not?"
Zeppelin Station bills itself as a "creative workplace and market hall," and Vinh Xuong will be slotted into the market hall on the ground floor of the development. So far, Fior Gelato (a spinoff of Fior di Latte in Boulder) and Aloha Poke Co. (a small chain based in Chicago) have also committed; occupants have yet to be announced for several remaining spots in the food-court-style setup, which will have international street-food as its common theme. The market hall will also include retail vendors, a full-service restaurant and several bar areas.
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Duc says this is a big step for his family, but he plans to take advantage of the opportunity to build on what the Huynhs have created. "With this new wave of food culture coming into Denver, I see this as a test kitchen — a chance to do 'banh mi 2.0,'" he notes.
The Denver restaurant community has been very supportive of his business and his plans for growth, he adds, and he's received plenty of advice on how to avoid pitfalls and growing pains as Vinh Xuong targets a part of town far from southwest Denver, with a different customer base. Part of growing is making sure that all of his parents' questions are answered, Duc says, adding that "the bakery name and branding is very important to them."
Zeppelin Station is the work of Zeppelin Development, which is also responsible for the TAXI development and the Source, both in RiNo. For steadfast downtowners who refuse to venture west on Alameda (yes, Uber will take you there), you can get a taste of Vinh Xuong this Friday, July 14, at the Source (3350 Brighton Boulevard): From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can purchase Vietnamese iced coffee and banh mi with a choice of several fillings at the RiNo Yacht Club inside the Source.
While Zeppelin Station embodies the development side of a new, modern Denver, Duc and Yen Huynh represent the soul of the city. Vietnamese food has long been part of Denver's identity, especially on the west side, where pho, banh mi and other specialties were served decades before they became popular culinary trends. The Huynh family brought their traditions from Vietnam and made them part of a growing city, and now their children are carrying on the legacy in a new wave of growth.