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    From an IT student to a waiter, from a waiter to a bartender, from a bartender to a bar manager, then the owner of 2 restaurants, Mr. Nguyen Minh Khoi has achieved all those things thanks to the daring to challenge, to change and to say goodbye to the stable loop.

    Minh Khoi has had more than 10 years working in the culinary industry, including 9 years in the bar and 2 years in the kitchen. Currently, he is the Owner and F&B Consultant of two restaurants including Hiên – Charcoal Kitchen and Aura Restaurant – Fusion Cuisine, Co-Founder and F&B Consultant of Bittersweet Hidden Cocktail Bar. To become who he is today, what Mr. Khoi has been through, let’s listen to his stories!

    Actually, when I finished grade 12, the major I chose was not the hotel, the bar or the kitchen, but the information technology. In my 2nd year of university, I wanted to find a part-time job. At that time, most part-time jobs for students were related to the F&B area, so I worked at a restaurant near Notre Dame Cathedral. Back then, I had no idea what to do, but after many years, I believe in the saying “career chooses people”. Later, I applied for the waiter position at a café but felt a bit bored and had nothing much to learn. However, I saw people working at the coffee counter have many things to do and learn. I applied to the counter but they required the staff to know how to make beverages. Then I found the bartenders very cool and in addition to coffee, people also make wine, cocktails, tea,… so I decided to learn bartending. After that, I was recruited into the bar, but in reality, the knowledge I was taught at school and what was in the bar was really different, like two faces of the same hand.

    I don’t know the reason why I chose to be a bartender but when I do this, I feel very happy. Every day when I come home from work, I still have energy and am ready to go to work the next morning, to continue working, even arriving earlier than everyone else.

    The moment that made me determined to become a bartender was when I directly met customers. At school, I didn’t have guests but in a real bar, I could stand there and directly meet them. What we learn is basic and sometimes not applicable, but creating value for customers is a different skill. How should I talk to guests to know their interests and desires? That excites me. Each customer has a different story or preference. With my knowledge and experience, I will please them.

    Customers will be the ones who directly create inspiration and enthusiasm for me. In the past, I considered an inspirational person as the first teacher, colleague or a world-class famous bartender. They can initially inspire me. Nevertheless, later on, I determined that as a person working in the service industry, the customer is the person who inspires me the most. Because everything I do is for them. After a meal, they feel comfortable, happy, and relieve stress, that is the biggest motivation for me.

    Up to now, I have 2 biggest milestones in my career path.

    In 2014, I was lucky to be a seasonal employee at Sorae restaurant and I also aimed to do this job for studying and gaining experience. Thanks to very good teachers and colleagues there, I learned many good things in the F&B industry. I’m so proud to work for Sorae, where I never thought I could ever have a chance to work here.

    The restaurant usually offers a training course for full-time employees within a month. However, seasonal staff like me do not have this privilege. I thought that once I was hired to work here, I had to be trained. That’s why I asked for training without salary, food or travel allowance. After about 8 months, from an hourly employee, I became a captain. I am so proud of my “stubbornness”.

    The second and most important milestone for me was the end of 2017. At that time, I was a Bar Manager and felt that Saigon was stuffy, so I decided to stop everything and go to Phu Quoc. This decision also makes me proud for daring to get out of my comfort zone. I was a manager, had a good income, had relationships in the city and a job closely connected with big cities. I pondered a lot but was frustrated as I kept thinking about leaving Saigon, so I finally decided to go to Phu Quoc. After a year working at InterContinental Phu Quoc, I opened a small bar by the beach, operating for 6 months. At the beginning of 2019, I opened my own restaurant, and it wasn’t long before the pandemic hit.

    Lá Gốm is the first restaurant I opened specializing in healthy and meat-free dishes, customers were mainly from Europe. Running only 3 months old then Covid-19 broke out. Due to the epidemic, there are almost no international visitors, while Vietnamese tourists are quite less interested in vegetarian cuisine in Phu Quoc. I was so confused but couldn’t stop. So, I had to find a way to overcome this, get a profit to import ingredients, maintain the restaurant and take care of the staff. I did whatever I could like focusing on the Vietnamese market, take-away food, switching from vegetarian to barbecue because my vegetarian style is not suitable for many Vietnamese people, renovating the restaurant ourselves to save cost,… Lá Gốm was changed to the current Hien – Charcoal Kitchen restaurant. At the beginning of the conversion, there were only a few customers, or some tables a day, but I thought it was okay, at least there were still customers. I would serve all of them well. Fortunately, by now, things have gradually stabilized.

    In my career, I used to be sad and tired but to be honest, the thought of giving up has never crossed my mind. In my opinion, once we think of something, it will rekindle and then flare up. Even during the pandemic, I didn’t intend to give up, but tried to find a way to change, and not to cut any staff.

    Around the end of the epidemic, when Hiên – Charcoal Kitchen went into operation, local guests gradually visited us, had a good experience and then told others about us. Every day going to the restaurant, I stopped by each table, talked to people, and introduced our dishes and drinks,… I love my restaurant so much that I want to make customers feel at ease. They later gave very good feedback and I felt like my efforts paid off. Thanks to that, I am more energetic, and full of confidence in the profession.

    Like many of my generation being bartenders, I had to prove to my family about the profession. Our parents used to think that the bar was a place for youngsters to hang out and rebel. I had to be resolute and believe that I didn’t do anything bad. After about one year, I had proven to my family that I no longer need money from my parents, while I can also support my family. This is the most practical thing, and all words are meaningless if I keep depending on my family.

    The second thing I have to exchange is youth. In my twenties, on holidays, Tet, or occasions for lovers and friends, I still have to work. I am the one who creates joy for guests and in exchange for happiness and income for myself.

    Previously, the value for me was the awards, and having a very famous restaurant. After nearly 2 years of running my own business, I calmly take a look back and realize that the greatest value to me is people. I spend time guiding, training and taking care of those working for me. I see them improving every day and living with the F&B industry. I create an environment for them to change their mindset, work and earn money for themselves and their family.

    The F&B industry in the city is changing very quickly. People update trends and products from abroad a lot. Most will find ways to catch up with trends, creating a place for customers to spend money. But in my opinion, everyone should calm down and consider what are the values they want. Vietnamese products, if made properly, will also have high value, not just imported goods from major countries. We have to know what the customer needs, meanwhile we also need to know what we are selling.

    #Twist&Turn is the column about the career path with turning points of personnel in the tourism industry.

    Mr. Minh Khoi and years of constantly changing to reach higher


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