INTERVIEW: Banh-mi-ba founder Hung Le on Czechia's insatiable hunger for Vietnamese cuisine

How honest ingredients and a loyal customer base has helped one of the Czech Republic's most successful restaurant networks grow.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 06.09.2023 14:00:00 (updated on 06.09.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

Opened in Prague in 2016, the Banh-mi-ba network of bistros was named for the Vietnamese baguette banh mi (pronounced baj mi) a thick, crusty sandwich stuffed with pickled carrots and radish, cucumbers, cilantro, and an assortment of meats and pate. The "Ba" in the name means three, for the three founders who started the project.

One of those founders, Hung Le, is head of the Banh-mi-ba bistros, network which today has four locations in Prague, as well as new branches at the Prague airport and main train station. We recently spoke to Mr. Le about the challenges he has faced as a Vietnamese entrepreneur in Czechia, his vision for the future, and Czechia's seemingly unsatiable hunger for authentic Vietnamese cuisine.

How long have you been in the Czech Republic?

My father was one of those who traveled to former Czechoslovakia during socialism, where he met my mother, and they had one of the first Vietnamese weddings at that time. After the construction, my parents moved back to Vietnam, where I was born and lived until I was 18. When I decided to move to the Czech Republic on my own, I continued my studies in Brno, graduating in corporate finance and tax consulting. This year marks 18 years since I've been in the Czech Republic, exactly half of my life.

What challenges have you faced as a Vietnamese entrepreneur in Czechia?

Before founding Banh-mi-ba, I worked as a sales representative for one of the largest wholesalers in the Czech Republic, where I had the opportunity to meet other Vietnamese and Czech restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. This experience provided valuable contacts and insights before starting my own business.

While the language barrier was not a major issue for me, navigating through the official and administrative steps associated with the business posed a bigger challenge. Fortunately, I had supportive individuals around me who offered guidance and assistance.

What do you think has driven the success and growth of your business?

From the very beginning, we have strived to create our recipes and bistros authentically. We focus on our own dishes without blending different Asian cuisines like a typical Chinese restaurant. Additionally, being a bistro rather than a traditional restaurant allows us to serve our customers within minutes, making it convenient for them to enjoy a meal during their lunch break.

My grandfather comes from Hanoi, where there is a competition for the best pho. He was always on the jury of the competition and judged which was the real and the best. From him, I learned everything about what it should taste like, and what is important when preparing it.

-Hung Le, in Czech news magazine Týden

Our loyal customers, who visit us regularly and share their positive experiences, have been instrumental in spreading the word about our bistro. As a result, even without significant investments in marketing, a large portion of people in the capital are aware of our brand.

How have you changed the way Vietnamese food is enjoyed in Czechia?

Through our bistros, we have succeeded in introducing Vietnamese cuisine to Czech customers. Today, I can confidently say that over two-thirds of our customers are Czech. We have achieved this by promoting Vietnamese cuisine through a modern concept and leveraging available technologies. Our branches offer online ordering options on our website and self-service kiosks, comparable to those of other major chains.

There is a lot of Vietnamese food in Prague. How does Banh-mi-ba stand out?

Initially, our menu had a narrow focus, but now we offer a wide variety of Vietnamese dishes. We consider ourselves essentially fast food but strive to be a healthier alternative, fulfilling our social responsibility. We cook everything according to traditional recipes, completely avoiding the use of chemicals. For instance, unlike many others, we don't add a large amount of glutamine to pho. Instead, we prepare bone broth for hours every night.

What lies ahead for your company and what is your vision for 2023?

We are committed to continuously enhancing our brand. This year, we are focused on expanding our product range with the most extensive additions in our history. We have introduced new baguette boxes, noodle boxes, and a new breakfast menu, among other offerings. We are also increasing our marketing efforts and overall brand awareness.

Customers can now find us at two major transportation hubs, the Prague airport, and the main railway station, aiming to enhance the travel experience for our customers. We will also participate in several festivals, such as Votvírák, and launch a food truck project with a permanent location in Holešovice. We have exciting plans, but they remain a secret for now.

This article was written in cooperation with banh–mi–ba s.r.o.. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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