If Chloe Tran, a business administration senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), isn’t in Mammel Hall, you can probably find her at the Bánh Mì Shop, the restaurant she owns.
Structured on clean white brick walls, round light bulbs and a menu covered in adorable Kawaii-style drawings of her staff members and sandwiches, the experience of the shop goes beyond its small frame.
Tran lives through the originality of her signature sandwich every day. In fact, it’s literally written on the wall:
“I’ve always known what makes a good bánh mì since I was a little kid in Saigon. The bread has to be light and crisp, with the taste and smell of fermented wheat flour. The bottom of the loaf should be slightly crustier than the top, and the top should have beautiful golden slashes where the dough rose through. It has to come with carrot and radish pickles, fresh cucumber sticks, cilantro, and thinly sliced peppers. The pâté, a spread made of pork, liver, and a lot of spices, always lay in the bottom of a traditional bánh mì. Next, fresh mayonnaise is added to the top of the pâté for extra creaminess. Thinly sliced cha-lua-steamed pork ham and fatty slices of marinated pork are a must. The sandwich looks ordinary, but the elements inside create a perfect harmony.”
This paragraph-long mural adorning the wall of the Bánh Mì Shop in Bellevue is a long-winded way of saying that the bánh mì sandwich is a staple in Vietnamese culture. In the Nebraska shop, the sandwiches gain a unique flavor with different meats (or eggs, or tofu!), as well as a full menu of bubble teas and snacks.
“It’s kind of like how in Mexico you can get a taco anywhere,” Tran said. “It’s very casual, very cheap. In Vietnam, you can find it anywhere. It’s right around the corner.”
Chloe Tran moved to Bellevue from Vietnam six years ago. And her restaurant celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. She said she grew up cooking, and once she was in America, all she wanted was authentic Vietnamese food.
Simply, she satisfied a craving.
“When the opportunity came, I decided to open the business, because this food is something that’s really familiar to me,” Tran said. “I love that I get to bring my culture to this community. I’ve brought this introduction to Bellevue where I can employ people, and local customers can introduce their family and friends to this new thing.”
To perfect the recipe, Tran said she had to work with ingredients and flavors from memory, which was a meticulous process to approach while simultaneously working toward an undergraduate degree.
Tran said her whole young life was spent in the kitchen, focused on cooking, so she felt that the right path would be to learn how to run a business, to ultimately learn how to run a restaurant. Of course, she reached for the stars when she decided to learn both all at once.
“I wanted to go into this—not because it’s my strongest thing, you know, I wasn’t born a business man—but I wanted to go into it to make myself strong,” Tran said. “Some days I really feel the pressure because the restaurant is very demanding. But when I list out the good things and the bad things, the good always outweighs the bad.”
Like most recipes, Tran started from scratch with the Bánh Mì Shop. She said she went into this startup with the challenge that everything was new.
“I didn’t even know what the word ‘contractor’ meant,” she said.
However, with professors who are often very flexible and the immediate applied education process of owning a business, Tran now feels a little more comfortable with the little things; from finances and supplies to management and hiring staff.
With a year of experience under her belt, she’s ready to celebrate.
“Going to business school, you hear all these stats about failing in the first year,” Tran said. “There’s not a lot of wiggle room, and it’s really scary. We couldn’t have done it without our customers and the local community groups that have helped promote the business. Our customers are the ones who open us to a broader audience. We want to honor them for their support.”
Tran is planning to present customers with some activities and promotions for the shop’s birthday on Saturday Nov. 17. And hopefully, she’ll treat herself to her own menu favorites: the egg sandwich and the jasmine milk tea.
“There are days I feel absolutely crazy for this, but it’s been working out so far,” Tran said, with a laugh. “The opportunity this business brings is endless.”
Visit the Bánh Mì Shop at 923 Galvin Rd S #101 Bellevue, NE 68005, or go online at thebanhmis.com.