The Story of a Restaurant with a Heart: Hanoi Vietnam’s New Food Culture – Part 2

owners of Hanoi Food Culture restaurant in Hanoi Vietnam

Did you already read the first part of my Hanoi travel for good story? Then you already know that G Adventures invited me as a sustainable luxury travel advisor to go on the National Geographic tour to explore its charity arm, Planeterra. This Hanoi Vietnam story is all about food, sustainability, and #GlobalLocal. Don’t miss out and read the full story of changing young people’s lives by providing unique travel experience to global travelers in Hanoi.

The Connection of Hanoi Vietnam’s Food Culture and Sustainable Tourism

Zoom Zoom’s success story is not everybody’s story.

There is little money to live day to day, let alone enough to send one’s children to secondary school.

And without that, there is no chance to attend university and for careers to help the family back home.

There is hope, however.

NGO, government programs and private businesses are helping to cultivate ways of earning extra income through social enterprises like cottage industries of handicrafts, small industries, and ecotourism. I witnessed the lives of an ethnic minority community deep in a mountain valley who existed on subsistence farming and little else until recent developments in sustainable tourism have slowly been raising their standard of living. But other areas aren’t as fortunate.

Social enterprise combines real travel experiences with real solutions. #GlobalLocal #EnlightenedTraveler Click To Tweet


From Impossible to Possible

Zoom Zoom knows this all too well, as do two other G Adventures team leaders in Vietnam, Lap Nguyen and Phong Nguyen.

All three were originally from the countryside and understand the struggles in those areas. Part of their job is in introducing their clients to the ways responsible and sustainable measures in tourism is helping.

But the life of a tour leader isn’t easy on the family, with most time away from home during the tourist season.

And, after guiding careers of over 10 years that kept them on the road much of the year, they wanted to spend more time with their growing families. As Zoom told me, it is a great life but not sustainable for an entire career. The Vietnamese are family-oriented, and once there is marriage and children, eventually a CEO will look in other directions.

beautiful Vietnamese authentic food dish at the Hanoi Food Culture restaurant, social enterprise in Hanoi Vietnam

The Birth of the Hanoi Food Culture

The 3 CEOs formed a partnership. Inspired by the concepts of using social enterprises to help others and by the commitment of G Adventures and others in the travel industry to responsible tourism, they started looking for other ways to use their university degrees and expertise in the travel industry.

And that is how Hanoi Food Culture was born.

“In a very short time, we had to make everything from impossible to possible.” Zoom Zoom

The trio knew that the food culture in Vietnam is a major factor to visit. They came up with a plan for a restaurant that served authentic food of Hanoi, but would offer more.

  • Lap, who is interested in Vietnamese food culture and plans to write a book on the topic with recipes, would lead street food tours.
  • Guests could have an exclusive lesson in making the iconic Egg Cream Coffee, a recipe held in secrecy among the cafes in Hanoi.
  • The founders would use their collective expertise to design other unique explorations in and from Hanoi.

The restaurant wouldn’t only be for patrons, however.  

students at the Hanoi Food Culture restaurant, a social enterprise in Hanoi Vietnam

A Place for Poor Students to Prosper

It was a place to help students with little financial support afford their university studies.

The men recognize in them their own lives and the lives of so many they witnessed in their guiding careers. This was an opportunity to give back and help their country advance.


The partners decided to apply for a loan through the G Values Fund, established by G Adventures to help further careers and tourism projects designed by their current and former employees.

#HanoiFoodCulture was born to help students break the cycle of poverty. Click To Tweet

Created this for them for chance to build small business where

  • they live,
  • give back to community and
  • provide exclusive activities for G Adventures guests.

With the help of their development team, a business plan was drawn up and submitted for consideration.

Zoom described the simultaneous elation on receiving the news that their loan application was approved, and the terror that they only had a few months to open.

students in the kitchen of the Hanoi Food Culture restaurant, a social enterprise in Hanoi Vietnam

Welcoming Travelers to Hanoi Food Culture’s Kitchen!

Work started in earnest in the tourism low season in June 2016.

First, a location needed to be secured.

The team found a café in a charming small street in the old quarter of the city.

It was formerly one of 2 top restaurants during the French Colonial period, and became a café in the Communist era. It had to be gutted, the kitchen refitted and the interior restored to glory. The team tells the harrowing tale, not uncommon to many a soft opening, of working through the night before treating visiting company dignitaries to a welcome meal in late October.

The restaurant’s doors opened that November. Since that time, not only is it a stop on a G Adventures itinerary, but steadily becoming well known to other travelers.

So Much More than a Restaurant …

Hanoi Food Culture is so much more than a restaurant and source of authentic travel experiences.

“It is a way to help others realize their dreams and improve the lives of their families.”

Eighty percent of the restaurant’s staff are from hospitality industry training centers that provide career certification, many of which are supported by Planeterra funding.

Others are students in Hanoi from remote areas whose paychecks go to helping their families back home.

There are future plans to support one student from the poorest areas in the countryside where the founders are from for total schooling and living expenses while they earn their degrees. 

Their dream is to increase the number they can support are their profits increase as profits increase.

delicious authentic Vietnamese food dish at Hanoi Food Culture restaurant, a social enterprise in Hanoi Vietnam

Hanoi Vietnam – Global Local

One of the joys of travel is in meeting people where they are – physical locale, naturally, but also where they are philosophically, spiritually, intellectually.

And when I meet good people, there is inspiration for me to be better myself, changing and transforming my own life.

In Vietnam I witnessed dozens of projects, inspired through tourism, that could positively impact the lives of its poorest citizens and thereby raise the living standard and hope for development. I saw proof of the philosophy that travel can, in the right controlled circumstance, make the world a better place.

The UN has declared 2017 the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development — an entire year dedicated to reminding us that tourism just isn’t about seeing the sites: it’s about connecting with local people and local cultures, minimizing our impact on the environment, and growing local economies. It is about growing peace through understanding.

Basically, we can make a difference in each other’s lives no matter where we are in the world.


Ambassador of Change

I am proud of my role as a 2017 Ambassador of Change. At Enlightened Journeys Travel, it is my mission to help you travel for good through handcrafted travel itineraries for immersive journeys of a lifetime in comfortable world travel, and good for the travel destinations you visit.

If you’d like to have more ease in your travel planning, I’d love to help!

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luxury travel advisor Theresa Jackson on one of her adventures journeys

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