Kei Concepts CEO Viet Nguyen takes the inspiration for his restaurant group from an unusual source—14th century Italian banking dynasty Medici family—to build his own dynasty of eight restaurants, with more on the way, in Orange County. While the different restaurants are all separate concepts with their own menus, the consistency in service and experience can be felt across the brand. Customer Sabrina has dined at multiple concepts in the group and shares what really makes them special.
On the Yelp Blog: Read more about Viet’s journey from proof of concept to full-fledged restaurant group.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Behind the Review features conversations with business owners and customers who wrote one of their Yelp reviews. In our discussions, we talk about lessons they’ve learned that can be used by other small businesses to improve their own reviews… and their bottom line.
This week, I’m talking to Viet Nguyen, co-founder, CEO and Executive Chef of Kei Concepts Restaurant Group in Orange County, and Sabrina Y., a Yelp Elite reviewer. Normally, we talk to an owner with just one business, and a reviewer who visited and reviewed that single business. Kei Concepts is actually a group of eight different Asian-fusion restaurants, with two more on the way.
Sabrina is a college student, but that doesn’t mean she only eats in dining halls. She loves to check out new places and enjoy food with friends. She’s actually eaten at multiple restaurants in the Kei Concepts group.
Sabrina: The way that I discovered Kei Concepts in the beginning was that I was just in that area and I wasn’t too familiar with it cuz it’s pretty far from where I go to school. Pulled up Yelp as I typically do. And I was scrolling and I noticed, I think the first one that I had been to was NEP Cafe.
And that one I noticed had a bunch of reviews. Without really knowing anything about the area or the restaurant or the group that was listed, Kei Concepts, I was just like, okay, if there’s a lot of reviews, then at least on average, people tend to enjoy it.
So I was like, it seems like a good place to check out. I’m a college student so I don’t have a ton of money. I feel like the ones that are more reviewed generally, this is probably not gonna be a huge waste of time and money. So that was why I went initially. I really loved it.
EMILY: NEP Cafe is a coffee and brunch cafe that serves breakfast and lunch with a Vietnamese flair, like Chili Crisp Avocado Toast. Sabrina was so impressed by her first visit, she’s been to several other restaurants in the group since. But NEP Cafe was her first review of the concepts, so let’s give it a listen:
Sabrina: Absolutely love this Vietnamese brunch spot. I’m so glad Yelp led me to it. We swung by around 10:00 AM and were seated immediately, but a walk-in line started forming shortly after that, so plan accordingly. We sat outside, but there are heaters, so it wasn’t cold at all. Our waitress was also friendly and helpful.
We ordered the crab toast, the beef tongue fried rice, and the banh mi chow with filet mignon, as well as an egg coffee with salted egg yolk. An egg coffee is always a must at a Vietnamese cafe for us, and we enjoyed this one, although it was a tad sweet. Once the ice melted a bit, it was actually perfect. We really enjoyed the crab toast as well.
All the flavors came together super well and made the perfect bite. The uni is from Santa Barbara and it provided nice freshness added on. The beef tongue fried rice was great, but the banh mi chao was the star of the show for us. The flavors were amazing and we love dipping the bread into the meat sauce and egg yolk. Absolutely delicious.
Overall, I definitely recommend trying this place out. There’s so many other things we wish we could have tried, and it seems like you really can’t go wrong here no matter what you get.
EMILY: Sabrina’s review really gives a lot of good information about what diners can find at NEP Cafe, and how unique the menu is – relative to traditional brunch spots in Orange County.
And that’s kind of their thing! Kei Concepts is all about fusion and flare. Founder Viet has a pretty diverse career background, with time spent in finance and software engineering. Just more than a decade ago, he was trying to find his place in the world, and figure out his next steps. Like most small business owners, he was looking for solutions, not just for himself, personally, but on a more global scale.
VIET: I wanted to really focus on a really big problem that humanity would face. Obviously, some people would think technology is the driver for all solutions, and I thought the same thing. I really looked into two largest problems that we have, or I would say two needs that we have. Which is shelter and food.
So, do I want to really focus on shelter? Which is real estate. Or do I wanna really focus on food? And because I love food, I eat food. I technically go every day thinking of the three meals that I’m gonna have for today. I was always this kind of passionate about food and I knew that I wanted to get into food.
And so what with food, the biggest software piece in any food company, or hospitality would be the POS system, which is the point of sale. Regardless if you’re a hotel or a restaurant, it doesn’t matter. If you are in hospitality, point of sale is your main driver or the main brain of the whole entire system.
So I started working for a bunch of different point of sale restaurants, based on the software side only. I learned a little bit of programming and coding myself, and so we really got into all different types of restaurants. And because of that, so I would understand restaurants a lot more, based off what I’m learning from the software side of things.
And because I was also classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu for French cuisine. So me, myself, I’m also a classically trained chef. Well, I didn’t actually graduate yet because during the time off I’m always like working and then going to school. And so I was deciding which one I was gonna go to, and I decided to drop out.
But I at least got in my, I would say foundation classes. And so from there I would understand how chefs would work. Obviously I managed a restaurant before in 2009 and 2010. So I always worked in restaurants, in and out. So, understanding the operation side, the software side, the understanding of it, I started doing a lot more consultation.
So from 2010 to ‘13, I did a lot of consultation for a lot of restaurants. Figuring out that, hey, if I could do this for multiple people, multiple restaurant groups, I should do one for myself. And also at that time, because we had a mom and pop restaurant from my family’s side, I was really helping out and we couldn’t really figure out the profitability if we really wanted to go mainstream.
EMILY: I think Viet’s non-traditional path to launching and managing his current restaurant group really played to his strengths. While some people may not understand the connection between finance, technology and restaurant operations, Viet leveraged what he knew, learned new skills, and brought all of that together to start his first restaurant.
And as he quickly learned, it’s harder than you think, no matter how much experience you may have.
VIET: That was also like a big task for me. Going out there in 2013 and start looking for a location for the very first time to apply my knowledge into the restaurant world. Before that, however, I actually also worked for a very short amount of time with Gordon Ramsay Group. There’s a restaurant called the Fat Cow in LA. For a very short time I was also on their software technology side. And I also learned a lot from them.
And during that time I also figured out if there’s a restaurant group that is internationally successful, they’ll be able to execute at a very high level. I mean, he himself has a 3 Michelin star restaurant, and now they’re coming to the US. So he operates at multiple different restaurants. I knew that if they could do that, it’s possible for an Asian group to also do the same.
And I was really just setting out to prove that concept, just a proof of concept of exactly how we’re gonna do that. And so in 2013, when I started looking for a location, I did not know what I wanted to do just yet.
I knew that I wanted to open a restaurant, but I didn’t know what type of restaurant. 2014, I finally found a location in Bona Park – for the first time in the same plaza with 85 degree Bakery, HMart, Dao, which are some of the biggest Asian brands that we would know.
And I thought to myself doing the research there, Pho was, I would say a no-brainer. Because during that time, in that area, also very Asian centric – we felt like that was the right call. So the very first brand in 2014, we called it Soup Noodle Bar. And that was my first proof of concept.
I was only the first few employees that were there. I remember the first month we did maybe in the low $30,000 a month or something like that. So it’s really not going well for me for the first year. I was even considering selling it at one point because the business was not doing so well. Because obviously at that time we were trying to sell Pho at a very high price. Not high price, but I think Pho at that time, $7, $8 for a large bowl was acceptable. I think higher than that, they would not pay. But if you are a ramen restaurant – same ingredients or even cheaper ingredients, you could charge people $10, $12 and that’s okay.
And so for us to kind of prove that, no, we could also charge $10 to $12, but we have to have very, good service and beautiful ambience. And that was the key. So in the first year, nobody wanted to pay $10 for a bowl to $12 for a bowl. But we proved along the way that quality matters, service matters, ambience matter. By the second year, we gained some traction.
So in 2016, we were like, you know what, maybe I can stay, maybe I can break even. And that was the point where we were like, you know what? We’re surviving in 2016. One of the servers that I had was also my roommate. He came up to us and said, ‘Hey, you know what? Seeing how you bring a brand from nothing to now, we’re obviously making profit. And we’re both Vietnamese. What if we can bring this concept – not the concept of food, a soup noodle bar – but like the concept of yes, you can pay tax a hundred percent, you can pay your staff really well, really good service, really good ambience, and start bringing it over to little Saigon.
That’s where our home base is. That’s where most Vietnamese people are. I don’t know if people know in the US there’s 2 million Vietnamese people living here. Or identify themselves as a Vietnamese descendant. In Southern California alone it’s about 400,000 people. In Little Saigon alone is almost 300,000 people of Vietnamese descent.
And so we felt, what if we bring this ideal of a restaurant group that is Vietnamese owned or Asian owned, that is doing things as standardized as Darden group or big groups here, and bring it back to Little Saigon. And so we brought back and there was another concept that we created which failed in 2017, and we called it Pango, which is an Asian Fusion taco.
During that time we got really freaked out. We didn’t know what to do. We were thinking of closing it as well, but we ended up turning it around in 2017 to a brand new concept. We call it the Voss Kitchen, which is right now almost 7,000 reviews on Yelp. Four and a half stars. And so that was a journey. So in 2017 when everything turned around, and also the same year that my daughter was born, Kira. And so in 2018, that’s when we were like, you know what? We could become a restaurant group.
In 2018, we officially call it Kei concepts and start opening the next concept called Gem Dining. And in 2019, that’s when we first opened Gem dining as our first fine dining fine casual concept, bringing whatever that we’ve learned and then bringing it up a notch.
EMILY: I’m sure most business owners are very aware of the roller-coaster ride Viet just described — successes followed by failures, followed by second chances. One major hit that just about every business in the world experienced was the pandemic in 2020. But rather than back down and close up shop, or scale back, Viet doubled, even tripled down on his business investment.
VIET: And we’re like, on a high horse, we’re thinking we’re gonna conquer the world. Everything was fine. And then Covid hits in.
I really freaked out. We have a hundred employees at that time already. We didn’t know what to do. Everything was shut down. We’re not allowed to do anything. And we thought to ourselves, okay. If we’re not gonna come back from this, then we’re done with. So there’s two courses of action. One, we gonna bank everything we have. Get every dollar from the bank, banking that the US government is gonna do something about it, and we are gonna get over this. And then the government is gonna help us out in some way, shape or form, maybe in the future. The economy is gonna bounce back up in 2021 to 2022.
And what if we double down? While everybody shutting down, letting go of their leases? We are gonna raise a big round of money and then double down on hiring, doubling our amount of staff, signing more leases, while the whole entire market was in a downturn.
And I talked to the team. There were three months of fearful, right? 90 days of shutdown to 120 days were unsure. I was unsure myself. To be completely honest, I was scared and I wanted to close. I wanted to close all the restaurants. I wanted to let go. But because of the team and all of the managers, all of the executive teams like, nope, we’re not quitting now.
If you are willing to ride us to the end, we’re gonna ride it with you and we all gonna take a pay cut. All managers gonna take a pay cut when it works, six, seven days. I don’t care what it is we’re gonna use our cars to deliver food. I don’t care. And so we came up with a plan and we did. So we pull in another few million dollars during that time, get a loan, whatever we could, and we double our staff. Actually triple. We were going from a hundred something employees to 300 something employees during that time frame, and we signed a bunch of different brands. We signed The Alley from Taiwan. We signed Dave’s Hot Chicken. We created NIP Cafe, because obviously we shut down. So we just sell on the street, king craft ramen because people can eat in the car.
We created a few other brands during that time and, to be completely honest, it kind of turned around in 2022. We also created Ini Ristorante during that time, and we are going from 100 to 300 something employees, to now we’re 850 employees with all of these brands just during that time.
Looking back at COVID, that was one of the biggest events that ever happened. And it really helped us form who we are. And the fact that we can create a community, take care of each other, really take off. And I think that’s how the customer would sense it too, when they come into any of our establishments, is a service. Because we don’t really teach them how to service customers, but we really just teach ’em how to take care of each other, themself and really just having fun. And the customer can feel it throughout.
And that’s why all of the new brands are coming out. We are actually launching another four different brands soon. Next year, we are opening a few more restaurants. This year we’re opening two Nap and Kintu in Irvine. We’re gonna be opening about six more concepts next year.
EMILY: Viet and the team took a lot of risk during the pandemic. There were some gutsy moves, but they really paid off. I am blown away by the numbers Kei Concepts has reached since 2020. For a lot of small businesses, another location is almost always the goal. Expand, expand, expand, with more and more locations. But often they’re just trying to replicate the same model in a new shop by doing the same thing. Just in a new location.
Viet is doing different things at each restaurant. But according to Sabrina, he’s staying true to a few core things across the board — ambiance, food quality, and customer service. That consistency isn’t always easy to do, but Kei Concepts has a strategy that’s working.
VIET: So we start out with an idea. And when all the teams come in, we explain to them exactly why we do the thing we do. And if you are really looking from the top down, I would say a lot of service companies or restaurant groups, they ask a lot of the questions of when, where, how, what? Because they’re more about what are you going to eat? How are you gonna get there? Where is the restaurant located? Or when is it gonna happen?
As the bigger group, that’s what you have to standardize, and I fully understand that. But because we have the, I would say the advantage of coming in later, and we’re smaller, so we are more agile. Those questions we feel like can take care of themself.
And so we ask ourself obviously, why do we exist as a company. So if you ask me about Kin or En or Role or any other brands, it serves a very specific purpose – because it’s a solution to a problem in a market that is there.
And so we tend to ask ourselves, why do we exist? Why does that brand even exist? Does it need to exist at all? It’s all important because, we’re not in a me too business and a lot of people think, let’s just say, comparing us to another brand that already is successful or somewhere else, I would say, well, they’re doing that really well.
For example, I can bring up Roll right? It’s like, hey, that’s like KazuNori. Well, it’s not because KazuNori in LA has a huge following. Me, myself, I love KazuNori. I go to KazuNori when I go to LA. And because they have this traditional feel to it, it’s standardized. It’s traditional. It’s to the point. No fuss about it and straightforward, which I love.
But there’s the other side of it, where people have never known hand roll before. They don’t really subscribe to it. They’re not gonna drive to LA, how do I introduce a different experience? So we think, what if we turn that into a speakeasy type with fusion. New American approach to hand roll, which I know for a fact that even right now if we beg KazuNori or they’re not gonna do. So, it’s not that we’re copying, but we are inspired by it.
If Android doesn’t get inspired by iOS in the past, an iPhone, we would never have an Android. We would never have Samsung, we would never have any other Android platform. Or Boeing and Airbus. You can name it all. So one person inspires another and we think it is a very cool place to be and ask the question of ‘why we exist in the first place’ and ‘does it serve any purpose at all in the market?’
And we ask two very important questions. We don’t ask the when and where and how, but we ask the who and the what. Who are we serving? Why do we exist? And then who are we serving and what do they need? If we know why we exist, which is the needs, we know who needs it, and then we can figure out the what to deliver that message.
And then we can ask them as a consumer and a customer, ‘As Kei concept, what would you like us to do?’ And then if they come back and say, Hey, you know what, I would love for you to do a Banh Mi concept. There’s a lot of Banh Mi out there, but I would like your interpretation of what Banh Mi is like with a New American approach where if you’re any race at all, it doesn’t matter if you coming from east, west, north, south – who cares where you comes from and your interpretation of it. And that would be mainstream enough so that we can get it in all 50 states. Okay, that sounds like a very good question to me, and let me figure out that solution. And if that’s what they ask for, and the solution is the number one marketing tool that we have is to sell what people need and not what you have.
So I don’t have a perfect recipe to give it to you. This is a very perfect recipe of Banh Mi. But if you ask me to produce it and you demand it and we fulfill it, then we have a business model. And so it answers the why and the who, obviously, because the people ask for it.
That’s why we exist. And the what is the product that we give you. The when, the where, and the how all figured out. And we have a platform for it. And so because of that, the culture that we explain to our staff is we’re not here to make a buck or two. We’re here to provide a hospitality solution to a lot of problems in the market. And if we serve the who without why, we’re gonna figure out the what.
And they ask me, ‘oh, how do I serve my customer the best way possible? What training do I have?’ If the customer comes in and you treat them as somebody that you absolutely love. If it was your mom, how would you treat her? If it was your dad, how would you treat him? If it was your best friend – treat them the same way and think of the why do we exist? And you figure out the whole entire service platform right from start to finish. You don’t even need to ask me. So if you come up and ask me, oh, do I need to collect a dirty plate? Would you collect a dirty plate for your best friend? Of course, I want him to have the best experience. Of course I would do that. You should answer your questions. I don’t need to train you.
EMILY: That’s such a simple concept, to think of your customers as your friends and family, and treat them accordingly, but it makes a huge difference in the customer service side of a business.
To me, the idea of fusion in a restaurant menu is really interesting. A lot of people love fusion concepts, but I think for some it requires a little hand holding from the server. In an unfamiliar space, customers might have more questions about how things are made and what it might taste like.
Rather than be annoyed by the questions, servers and staff at Kei Concepts embrace them, which might directly circle back to how Viet does his training. It certainly made an impact on Sabrina.
SABRINA: They’re consistently so good across the board. But I do also think they really let their personalities come through. One thing I personally like to do when I go to eat is always ask the server for what they like. They work there, they’re most familiar with the dishes.
And every time I’ve done that at one of these restaurants, they chat about it and they have their own personalities and that’s really awesome to see. They’re all so nice. You feel like you’re one of their friends or like you’re part of this greater family or community, which I don’t think you always get, even when you ask someone for the recommendations at a restaurant and they’re being really friendly about it.
I think that’s also one of the things I really like about the Kei concepts restaurants, is that the food is great everywhere. The service is great everywhere, so you can tell they have some sort of formula or training system worked out, but it really doesn’t feel copy and paste.
It doesn’t feel like, oh, here’s Kei concepts – restaurants one. Here’s Kei concepts restaurants two. If I didn’t see on their Yelp or anything like that, that it was by Kei Concepts, I wouldn’t realize that they were connected restaurants. They still feel like distinct entities and have their own identities as well, and personalities.
EMILY: Sabrina told me that she feels she needs to ‘raise her hand least’ when dining at a Kei Concepts establishment. Basically, the servers are the most anticipatory in the business. Spotting drinks as they get low, clearing plates without being asked. And while this is a part of training and culture, it starts with the hiring decisions.
VIET: Do you need to have a super detailed step-by-step service type? Yes. Maybe under the orientation once, but at the end of the day, they all gonna forget about it. And there’s things that you cannot teach. Personality you cannot teach being a good person, you cannot teach. So when we hire somebody, we don’t just ask them, what’s your resume? What’s your experience? We care less about that. I would prefer somebody to come like, you know what, no experience, but I was raised in a very good family. A very friendly person. And when I look at them, and if I can ask myself, would I go grab a beer with this person after the shift ends?
If I could, you’re hired. ‘Cause everything else, I can train you. Everything else is easy. But I cannot teach you the art of connecting human to human. Your EQ matters so much more. And in this day and age, no matter how high your IQ is, it doesn’t matter. I cannot teach you how to be a friendly person or a good person, or how to connect with your staff.
EMILY: As we approach the 3-year mark of this podcast, I think we know how challenging negative reviews can be. Every business owner in the history of small business has experienced them at one point or another, whether publicly on a site like Yelp, or in person. And they might all agree that it really stinks to get criticism in an online review.
However, we’ve also learned that keeping a cool head while reading those less-than-stellar reviews, can help identify pain points or customer service issues you might not be able to see yourself.
VIET: I have a confession to make. I used to be one of those business owners where in the very beginning stage of my career, when I had a negative review, I could not sleep. And I would go back there and I would fight, and I would publicly fight until the end and it’s embarrassing. I don’t do that anymore. I mean, I want to do it sometimes. But the PR team and the marketing team pretty much banned me from doing that ever again.
But now obviously I don’t. I think that was a real moment of realization for a platform like Yelp. Every time I get a negative review, yes, sometimes – it is absolutely, I have to fight. But sometimes it really points out a big problem, even if it’s outrageous and they’re like, ‘oh, we waited 30 minutes for your restaurant and I’m leaving, there’s no parking one star.’
I’m like, okay, well what do you want me to do with parking? The silver lining is, wait, if 10 of them keep talking about parking – even if they give you one star – maybe there’s some time for you to talk to the landlord. Or maybe you know, the wait time. Well, what if we turn the wait time into something very positive, like having hot chocolate out, maybe having people out there, maybe music outside, warm clothing, or a blanket or do something fun or play some sort of video and that changes our mindset forever. Yes, it’s negative sometimes it’s outrageous, but if you can see the pattern always. And it helps. And now we’re like, what? 17,000 reviews in with Yelp across the board.
EMILY: Viet is EXACTLY right. I’ve said many times – you shouldn’t be jumping to make big changes in your business every time you get a critical review. Sometimes critical feedback is more about you and your business not being the right fit for a customer. Or sometimes a server just has an off night. But if customers are continuously complaining about the same things in say 3, 4, or more reviews, that’s something worth addressing.
And while you might not make changes based on every critical review, you should engage with them like the Kei Concepts team does. I love how passionate Viet was when they started, and I’m proud of him for his growth since then to realize that his response is more for the future consumer, than the customer who wrote the criticism.
Responding to reviewers makes an impact. Both in deepening the relationship with a customer who had a positive experience, as well as showing you pay attention to customer feedback by responding to a critical review in a timely manner, and addressing the problem.
Consumers not only look for business owner responses, 87% of them say they’d be willing to look past a critical review if they see a business owner responded – and addressed the customer’s concern.
And I don’t want the responses to be lengthy. You don’t need to address each and everything they mention. BUT, you can start by thanking them for taking the time to share their experience. Addressing or calling out one or two of the things they mentioned and how you’re going to address them, or why they are the way they are. For example, a farm to table restaurant getting negative reviews about price maybe respond and explain that by sourcing their ingredients locally it can lead to higher prices, but it contributes to the local community. This helps educate, and deter other customers who may not be the right fit for the same reason. Sometimes a negative review tells customers exactly who you are.
Again, this doesn’t need to be a lengthy response, but make sure to close out by providing a way to connect offline either by sending a direct message – or providing an email address or phone number for them to reach out.
And they may not! But your response strategy shows you care about customers and customer feedback. Future customers who see those reviews, and your response, will be more likely to share criticism with you directly – since they know you want to address it – and are more likely to share their positive experiences with your business online, because they know you read them – and that you care.
SABRINA: I love it when I get a response back from somebody at the restaurant. I think it’s easy to think of the restaurant as like this company or this entity that just has no face and no name, but, and I think it’s the same with Yelp too.
Maybe sometimes they think of Yelpers as this big thing and they’re like, I don’t know who it is. But when I, as an individual, as Sabrina, go on and post a review for a restaurant, I’m talking about what did I experience there, what did I love there? What did I think you might love there? And when somebody responds to me, it humanizes them as well, where it’s like, here’s an individual behind the screen.
Yes, they work for Kei Concepts, they work for this restaurant, but at the end of the day, we’re all just individuals trying to do good and have a good time together. So I love it when they respond cuz it makes me feel like this guy, Christopher read my review and he knows what I’m thinking about.
I would say not all my reviews get responses. I have noticed though, that it’s happening more of late, so I think it’s starting to pick up, like people are realizing the value of that.
EMILY: People want to experience a restaurant that’s humanized! They want to see the faces of team members behind the brand. And that’s certainly the case with Kei Concepts. You see it in Viet’s passion and enthusiasm for connecting his culture and identity to his business decisions. He’s driven to have delicious and unique food options, but he’s also intentional about representation as a Vietnamese American. It can’t help but flavor his business decisions as well as his menus. He made a very distinct decision on the neighborhood where most of his restaurants are located — a place in Orange County called Little Saigon.
VIET: I’m an immigrant, obviously. I came here in 2002 when I was 16. I was looking for a corporation that Vietnamese owned, performing at a very high level that can compete nationwide.
Even, I don’t know, on the stock market or somewhere, but I couldn’t find anybody. I was looking for a leader who would lead, and then I couldn’t find anybody that was leading me. I was having to learn from another concept group. From the Korean group, Japanese group, American group.
But there’s no Vietnamese group. That was always bothering me and it’s always in the back of my head. And Vietnamese people have contributed so much to this country, and now I am on my way to be a US citizen. I’m more proud than anybody to be a US citizen. I always ask myself, how can I contribute?
How do Vietnamese people contribute to the US economy, but also in the meantime inspire the next generation of Vietnamese people that come here to be a part of this American dream? And I had to find a vehicle and I felt Kei Concept was my vehicle. And also in the name. We didn’t build this restaurant, these concepts for us. We specifically built it for the next generation, for Kira, for Key.
I’m not super old, but I’m getting close to 40, so at the second half of my life I’m asking myself a question of what is the legacy I wanna leave behind? I felt Kei concept is my gateway, is my solution to get to that point. And if there’s one thing that I can leave this world with is the little Saigon, because I was born in Saigon, in Vietnam, so I really wanna make little Saigon the second best place to live for Vietnamese people.
So if when they come here in the U.S., this is their home base, if they want to do business here. And if they want to get inspired and they wanna be a part of a community, if they want to be a part of a company that’s doing the right thing, the right time, is important to us. And everybody’s looking at what we do right now.
And if we fail, and I told everybody, if we end up not succeeding as a company, we still have to, during our journey, inspire.
I want to add at the very end is we model ourself after a group called, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the Medici family. So the Medici Effects, that there’s a book called the Medici Effect.
The Medici Effect talks about this one single family in Italy that during the time that they were very successful, they were pulled together and felt, how can we inspire and create a platform where art can flourish. And so the Medici family was a very successful banker. And so there would be different family of the cousins and a brother and sister actually investing and creating this platform where if you are an artist anywhere in the world, you can come here, in Italy.
You just need to tell them that you’re gonna do art and we’re gonna pay for you. That’s the very first time in human history that we have a family that pays you before you even have a painting or a sculpture or anything. To get paid a salary to create art. Leonardo Da Vinci was found, Michelangelo was found. Many, many other talents, and that was the Renaissance.
The Renaissance happened at all because of the Medici family. One single family, not even a multi-billionaire. They were wealthy, but they’re not that wealthy, but they believed in the art. And so looking at that, and I was thinking, what if we can start a renaissance here? What if we can turn Orange County. Not LA, not San Francisco, not Chicago, not Seattle, none of those places. But Orange County. Little Saigon. Little tiny town. Not a lot of people. 3.2 million people lived here, versus the rest of the US. How do we put ourself on a map?
That was the driving force, the why we exist and if we can just keep investing into these restaurants. And curate talent.
So now we have people from LA, people from San Francisco, New York, Chicago, subscribing to us and working for us now.
And so this Medici effect is what we’re hoping for and we call it the Kei Effect where we just gonna invest in art. I don’t care what you do, I don’t care what you cook, as long as you have a talent and you want to contribute, I’m gonna pay you a salary. Just come here, show me your talent and let’s cook good food, provide excellent service, and hopefully that we can create more and more art.
Right now we have a restaurant, GEM Dining is already on a Michelin guide as a recommended Michelin. So we don’t have a star yet, but we already in Michelin Guide.
But we’re, we are very obsessed with getting a star, probably sometime soon. What if we can put a star on a map? In Orange County, a Vietnamese owned group, what if we can go national? What if we go IPO? Who cares? The dream is big, but the American dream is alive.
And I hope every single staff member that worked for us would feel the same way. And hopefully we can contribute to this effect that we call the Kei effect. Hopefully.
EMILY: Viet is not solely focused on his legacy, and what he’ll leave behind. He’s also focused on the here and now, with a mission bigger than a chain of successful restaurants.
VIET: I think the fact that right now what we’re doing is not just doing restaurants, we’re feeding humanity.
And I think people need to really take that responsibility into consideration that you’re tackling the only two needs that people would, humanity would need. Need food and they need shelter. That’s it.
And if they’re gonna be spending a stressful day at work and or somewhere else coming into a restaurant where as a staff or as a manager, you can look them in the face like, ‘It’s okay. Everything’s gonna be okay. Let me feed you, let’s have a drink. Tomorrow is gonna be a better day.’
And if we just do that over and over and over again, you can literally change people’s life for the better if they’re coming in and getting the best service of their life.
And they talk about that one meal.
So I just got a letter from a customer. That invited us to their wedding because that’s where they first met is that Voss Kitchen. And that’s also when they bring the two families together to sit at the same table. And I thought it was beautiful.
I love reading letters like that from customers where we are making an impact. I really hope that people that are doing restaurants, that go out there, don’t just think about—I mean, obviously making money is a part of it. But money will come. But how do we add value to another human being’s life is extremely important and we wake up every day, focusing on the same thing, and we ask ourselves the same question. How do we improve our service? To us right now, this is not enough, this is not good enough, and we have to do more. So it’s gonna be a continued drive. It’s important for us to know that we’re not just selling food, we’re feeding humanity.