“You were born to be in the F&B industry, I’ll recommend some jobs for you,” a lecturer told Truong Quoc Quyen on the very first day he entered Saigontourist Hospitality College. Over the past 14-15 years, he is still proving that his teacher had a keen observation.
Sneaking into the UISQUE speakeasy bar, Destination Review can feel Quyen’s enthusiasm for his “nest” and then listen to stories of “the man born to be in the F&B industry”.
When I was a kid, I watched two movies featuring wine. Even though I forgot the names, I still remember some scenes clearly. In the South Korean film, the characters tasted wine samples without labels and told exactly all the information about that wine, making me so curious.
A few years later, when I was about 13 or 14, I watched an Italian movie about wine. Accordingly, autumn is the time to decide whether the wine meets the standards. If autumn ends soon and winter comes early, the grapes will not have enough sunlight to ripen. In that case, people will gather at midnight after hearing the bell to rush to the field, where large piles of firewood are ready. On windless days, they use big fans to support it. These scenes were engraved in my head because the process of making a bottle of wine was so elaborate.
With an existing interest in wine, I chose to study F&B at Saigontourist Hospitality College. The teacher there quickly recognized my ability and introduced me to the jobs. In the first year, I worked as a casual for wedding parties at many big hotels in Saigon such as Caravelle, Sheraton, Rex, Continental,… After a short time, I was promoted to be the leader, then set up my own team. I made the layout for the party, found casuals to work with and cooperated with Saigon Catering, the biggest event organizer in Saigon at that time.
I was fortunate to have financial support from my family, so I chose to work part-time because of my passion for the job and the desire to follow this career . The total salary I received was an unimaginable number for a freshman 14 years ago!
In my junior year, I worked for a Saigon Catering’s outlet at RMIT University. Working as a waiter for a while, I was inspired and had a chance to experience Barista and was quickly promoted to the main position at the counter after a short probation period. Additionally, at RMIT, every Friday is Happy day, when teachers gather and drink together. That’s why I could make alcoholic drinks on that day and started to learn more deeply about the thing I was interested in since little.
After graduation from Saigontourist, though I quite regretted the time as well as the environment and people at Saigon Catering, I still chose to quit and spent 3 months learning to become a bartender as I dreamed.
Having certificates of F&B and Bartender, I worked for Continental Saigon Hotel’s bar. However, F&B in hospitality is a bit restrictive for me, I prefer a free space with its own rules and world. After that, there were new and more influential turning points in my career.
At the end of 2010, when entering Bobby Chinn, known as a quality lounge at that time, I still remember the image of a young man applying for a job but didn’t care about salary or benefits, just stared at the bar as if hypnotized. As a bar back, it took me only2 days to accustom and 2 weeks to become a full-time employee, but instead of being Bartender, I was promoted to the Captain position. And after 6 months, with ability, effort and fortune, I became the Bar Head, replacing the Head who settled down with his family abroad.
It can be said that working for Bobby Chinn was the turning point of my life. I learned a lot here. Thought that I would work there for many years, but Bobby Chinn was later transferred, no longer suitable for me. From that on, I lost my direction in the industry and felt that I would not find a great place like Bobby Chinn.
I once thought of leaving the industry. Anyway, I didn’t know what else to do as I hesitated to start all over again. Besides, I am doing well at what I love and doing what I’m best at, so why give it up?! There’s only wine in my mind now, will it work if I put another thing in? Struggling for a while, but I kept believing I would find somewhere for myself. It was not until June 2015 that I luckily met interior designer Thai Cong and his restaurant project. I was involved in the design, layout and operation of everything from the bar to the kitchen for 6 years.
Working for Thai Cong’s restaurant has helped shape my European style more firmly. It is like a toehold for me to do more, for example, the launch of the speakeasy bar UISQUE in August 2022, which I cherished 5 years ago. I chased after unique and rare decorative items everywhere for it. Here, I do not sell alcohol, but use alcohol to tell stories.
At my first Bar Head at RMIT University, I learned to be presentable, ready to throw away a beverage that doesn’t meet standard, and make a new one, not adjust. My next Bar Head at Bobby Chinn is an experienced and disciplined bartender. At first, he was quite strict but after realizing my creativity and customer understanding worked, he became more gentle and did not hesitate to learn more from a newbie like me. I respect that, indeed. Later, following him, I have also learned from my staff, the extended “arms” help my knowledge and creativity increase. Our brains have limits, so if you see something good, just acquire it!
About 5 years ago, I began to teach at A Au Vocational Guidance School, as a way to repay what the teachers gave me before. Every time I go to class, I tell myself that I must have the highest energy, and the best physical condition to inspire them. Otherwise, I will not teach because then, they will not get the best things that I need and want to give them.
I don’t think I have to exchange any. I must stay up late regularly but always try to live in a scientific way. I sleep from 6 to 8 hours a day, do periodic health checks, control alcohol intake, exercise, play sports, calculate portion sizes,… Not constraining my body so I think I’m well enough to be a bartender for many more years. I often tell my mom that I will do this job until I get old. On Tet holiday, I don’t work as I really respect reunion with my family on the traditional occasion.
I get many big values in this career. My family trusts and empowers me to decide many things, especially ideas for family gatherings. I am respected by many people, including businessmen, and people with high positions in businesses and society. I choose to be a storyteller so each of my drinks has its own story. I have met customers who come to the bar just to chat with me and drink what I make, like a teacher once said.
Bartender is not actually so hard as many think. Just be passionate and creative, you’ll succeed. For me, passion is to be willing to change your daily routine for customers.
I’ve got a regular customer who is a pilot. Every time he goes to the bar, he always sits in the same seat and just has the drink I make. Knowing that he suffers from metathesiophobia, I asked for his flight schedule to ensure that I will always be at the bar whenever he visits.
If you extremely want to be a bartender, just do it, don’t hesitate or suspect anything!