A taste of the East in Liverpool.
If you live in Liverpool, you’ve probably heard about VietNom. What started back in 2018 as a street food concept in the Baltic Market has quickly grown to become one of the most exciting new food businesses in the city.
The idea for VietNom was sparked by Mel’s dad who comes from Hanoi, Vietnam. Being a chef himself, he’s shown Mel the Viet way by teaching her to cook at home. Her mission is to bring a little taste of Vietnam to Liverpool, combining the colourful and authentic flavours of her family heritage with local produce. Mel and her business partner Peter have worked in many restaurants around Liverpool, including Maray and Oktopus. “Peter has 10 years’ experience working in kitchens and Vietnamese is one of his favourite cuisines, so it seemed like a perfect partnership.”
“After our residency at the Baltic Market, we hosted dinner parties at The Bagelry and Mother Espresso, which really gave us the appetite for our own place. We found our first ‘bricks and mortar’ site in January 2019 – and then then hard work really started!” Mel secured a lease on the former Big Noodle Bowl on Berry Street, an area of the city which is fast becoming a destination for foodies seeking new and exciting concepts.
VietNom opened in February 2020 and traded for just six weeks before the country was placed in lockdown and hospitality businesses were forced to close. “We immediately knew that we would offer takeaway – our food works well in that sense as our origins are in street food. Lockdown became a great opportunity for us to develop our menu and helped us to understand what our core products should be. You’ll always find our spring rolls on the menu, but we plan to rotate our meat and veggie dishes and our noodle soups regularly to make use of more seasonal produce.”
Mel is passionate about her local community and is keen to collaborate with other local businesses. “We buy our fruit and veg from a local supplier, and all of the artwork in our restaurant comes from talented local artists.” She also places great value on the personal development of her team, encouraging them to learn new skills in the kitchen and sharing books and information relating to causes which are close to her heart. Mel describes herself as a feminist and is a strong advocate for the empowerment of women in the workplace. She supports local women’s charities, as well as engaging with her team on current issues such as the BLM movement and LGBT+ equality.
Mel also has her eye on sustainability and insists on using recyclable paper bags and cardboard straws at VietNom. This focus on sustainability transfers into her supply chain, which has led to some interesting discoveries. “In Vietnamese cooking we often use a root vegetable called daikon, which is pickled and used as an accompaniment to many of our dishes. Most daikon in the UK is imported, so we tried the same method with locally grown turnips and found a sustainable solution using products grown much closer to home.”
Mel loves to share the history of Vietnamese cuisine with her customers, many of whom have visited the country or who are keen to make the trip. She explains the French influence on modern Vietnamese food, and how baguettes became a lunchtime staple in the form of Bahn Mi. “We have a loyal customer base here at VietNom, and it’s been incredible to welcome them back after lockdown. But we were only open for just over a month before lockdown, so we know that we still have a lot of new customers to welcome too.”
Safety is also an important issue for Mel, who recently completed the independent Covid-Safe certification through Foursquare Group to ensure that her staff and her customers remain safe. But Mel is feeling good about the future of VietNom. “Lockdown was a really difficult time for everyone in the industry, but I can also see a lot of positivity coming out of this situation. I’ve seen so many local businesses come up with creative solutions over the last few months. It’s been inspiring and has given me so many ideas on how to move my own business forward and collaborate with others.”