How to Own a Restaurant in Vietnam with Bao Wow

Tucked away along the famous Dang Thai Mai st in Tay Ho, Hanoi, the Taiwanese inspired restaurant ‘Bao Wow‘, serves up fresh, kick-ass bao buns.

Owners and Founders, Katie Taylor and her partner and chef, Phan Nhu Long launched the popular dining experience back in late 2018. The couple knew they wanted to create an interesting cuisine and they found that with their ‘asian-style fusion baos’.

Bao Wow was one of the first places I discovered I liked to eat at when I moved to Vietnam last year. During the time I lived in the Westlake area, I found myself eating at Bao Wow at least once a week. Katie and her crew were faces that greeted me and my friends whether we were there just for drinks or chose to have a sit down meal, it was always an atmosphere I looked forward to. Before I moved back home, I managed to chat with Katie and ask how with the help of her partner, they created this buzzing restaurant and culture that is bringing customers from all over the world, to this little part of Tay Ho.

Hello Katie, along with your partner Phan Nhu Long, you own Hanoi’s first fusion bao restaurant ‘Bao Wow’, can you talk me through the initial idea?  

Initially we both just knew Hanoi was really lacking fun, interesting food served in a dynamic environment. It was important we found  a concept that would work for any age and any budget and still being able to deliver kick ass flavors.  

For us who don’t know exactly what’s a bao, please tell us about where it comes from and what it is.  

‘The Bao’ is originally from Taiwan, and is best described as a fluffy steamed bread/bun. We’ve heard customers describe them as a “Vietnamese taco” which isn’t too far off! We fill them with seasonal and creative fillings like our ‘Falafel‘, made with lentil falafel, pickled beets, garlic + mint tzatziki. Or our ‘Big McKenna‘ packed with Australian beef patty, Big Mac sauce, American cheese, shredduce and sessame seeds. Check out our online menu to see more of our main dishes including our delicious ‘cajun fries’, a selection of beers and awesome cocktails.

Have you ever owned a business before or is this your first venture? 

I originally moved to Vietnam 5 years ago to start a business called “The Houseboat Project”. I worked with local fisherman on the waters of Ha Long Bay renovating their old houseboats into boutique homestays. It was one of the most challenging  / bonkers things ive ever done , my mum still has issues with me putting myself in a position where I have literally 0 phone signal and general contact with any English speaking person for weeks on end but it definitely taught me so much about working in Vietnam. The culture, the rules and the unspoken rules but, most importantly knowing when to walk away from something you’ve worked so hard to get off the ground if it’s not working for you anymore. The Houseboat Project unfortunately didn’t work out, as most ideas do but, I wouldn’t have changed that experience for anything. I actually met my business partner and now husband through that experience so for me, I walked away with a lot more than I initially thought! Ha!

How long have you owned Bao Wow? 

The restaurant has been steaming away since August 2018 !  

Your logo is pretty iconic, what’s the story behind the illustration of the man with the ‘bao’?

One of our supremely talented and good friends Sam Mudrok worked with us on our branding. We knew we wanted our logo to be an illustration of some kind that had an Asian/Taiwanese style to it. We went through weeks of exploring ideas and researching what could work. We started to hit a roadblock with it when one night I grabbed Long, tied his hair in a top knot and took a photo of him eating one of the leftover baos from a test batch the night before. It was crazy we didn’t think of making Long the character before but as soon as the idea came, Sam drew up the Bao boy straight away and it just worked.  

What are the three most important life lessons you’ve learned whilst owning a business so far? 

“Expect the unexpected.” 

Knowing when to walk away, if it no longer makes sense.”

“Failure is your friend.”

If you were any bao, what would you be and why? 

Black Tuna. Its one of my favourites because its simple but creative and a whole lot of flavour. 

Black Tuna bao

What’s been your most rewarding moment so far being a business owner? 

Before we even opened the restaurant, Hong Kong Airlines approached us about doing a double page spread article in their inflight magazine. The crazy thing was…WE HADNT EVEN OPENED YET! Our mums were mega proud as were we but to be honest , our bao crew has been the most rewarding part of this whole process.  
It was my goal to find a way to change the way people viewed Vietnamese servers and cooks. Long and I have worked really hard training and hiring the type of servers that know how to show customers a good time whilst totally loving their work. If I had a dime for every time one of our ‘bao-tenders’ told me someone came up to them in the street and high-fived them because they worked at ‘Bao Wow’ i’d be pretty well off.  

So, what’s next for Bao Wow? 

We are going to keep working with our little restaurant to make sure we can stay creating cool food , giving great service and making people happy and hopefully in the future have the opportunity to open a new concept that merges my passion for boutique accommodation and his mad cooking skills.   

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