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A Taste of Vietnam, in Lowell

August 12, 2018

LOWELL -- Walking around UMass Lowell’s campus and the neighboring downtown streets, Sally Pham couldn’t find any coffee shops that reminded her of Vietnam.

Places where she could order a Vietnamese iced coffee first thing in the morning, an avocado smoothie around lunch time, and then a bubble tea later in the day.

Pham, an accounting student at the time, made it her mission to bring that Vietnamese-inspired coffee and bubble-tea shop to the area.

She did just that three months ago, when the 28-year-old opened Vinaan Café near City Hall.

“New customers come in every day and go, ‘Wow! This is so good!‘” Pham said on Thursday, while sitting outside at one of the café’s sidewalk tables at 12 Cardinal O’Connell Parkway.

Vinaan café serves a variety of hot coffee, iced coffee, fresh juice, smoothies and bubble tea.

For instance, the Coco cafe is a coconut slushy with Vietnamese coffee on top, and the Green PB smoothie is spinach, peanut butter, banana, cinnamon and milk.

“I’m a restaurant nerd, so I go around a lot, trying everything in Boston, California, Texas,” Pham said. “I try out what they have, and then try my own recipes.

“We’re way more than just coffee with condensed milk,” she added.

Pham stressed that they make everything as fresh as possible.

They emphasize the taste of fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables, and minimize the use of added sweeteners, oils and other chemicals.

“I like the juices here,” said customer Sokreth Un, 23, drinking raw juice (carrot, tomato, cucumber and apple). “It’s the only place you can really get this.”

While living in Vietnam, Pham developed a passion for cooking. Her family didn’t have much time to cook, and her nanny didn’t cook well, she said.

As a result, Pham taught herself how to cook. Then she came to America in 2013 to attend UMass Lowell, and learned how to cook food from other cultures.

That fusion of various cultures will be on display in the near future at her new restaurant next door to Vinaan café. Pham plans to open a Vietnamese, Thai and American barbecue sit-down place by the middle of September.

As far as the first three months of the café, Pham said the community is providing positive feedback.

“There’s still room to improve,” she said. “We’re still in a testing phase.”

The café has free WiFi, so people can bring their laptop to do work. There’s a large table in the middle of the room for groups to meet.

“There’s a lot of potential here,” said customer Sombath Kim, 22. “People will really enjoy it here.”

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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