Khỏe and đói bring more than just a unique twist to the Vancouver Vietnamese food scene. Both concepts are the brainchild of co-owners and cousins Paul and Julia, who both started their career journey as accountants and realized their dreams were greater than their day jobs. They then joined our membership and have become a local favourite, and a pillar in our East Georgia commissary kitchen. With a cult following on social media and glowing reviews, they’ve grown their business from wholesale vegan spring rolls to two ghost kitchens and a series of successful pop-ups. Hear from Julia and Paul, and how they’ve been able to grow their vegan Vietnamese ghost kitchen with a Coho commissary.
Table of Contents
1. What's the origin story of Khỏe? It seems you’re also running a number of different businesses - could you tell us about them?
2. When did you start đói? And why?
3. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced growing your business? Can you share any advice for future food entrepreneurs?
4. Why did you choose to work in a commissary kitchen? What are the top benefits?
5. What are your long-term business growth plans? Do you anticipate always having a commissary hub for your business?
6. How do you define success?
7. Would you recommend Coho to other food businesses? If so (we hope so!), why?
Coho: What's the origin story of Khỏe? It seems you’re also running a number of different businesses - could you tell us about them?
We both have an accounting background, but we have always loved food. Growing up Vietnamese-Canadian, Vietnamese cuisine was the main thing that helped us keep our cultural roots. The pandemic was kind of a wake-up call. We realized we had other dreams and passions we wanted to pursue, and in 2020 we both left our full-time accounting jobs to start Khỏe.
Khỏe is a vegan Vietnamese ghost kitchen specializing in noodle bowls, and đói is a new brand we started in April, featuring vegan banh mi and baos.
Coho: When did you start đói? And why?
đói started out as a side project in April 2022; we were just making dishes we genuinely love to eat and wanted to share. It organically evolved into something bigger than we ever expected.
The concept and idea for đói came pretty naturally to us. Growing up, we can recall many fond childhood memories of popping in a steamed bao in the microwave for breakfast or eating a banh mi sandwich from our local Vietnamese deli for lunch.
Most Vietnamese restaurants have specialties, and rather than expanding Khỏe, we wanted to emulate that by creating a separate brand.
Coho: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced growing your business? Can you share any advice for future food entrepreneurs?
For us, scaling our operations and delegating tasks was one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced. As we’ve grown our menu, we’ve had to reconsider how to prepare our products more efficiently.
Working beside so many other businesses, we were able to learn new ways to prepare in bulk and utilize equipment we’ve never used to help streamline not only our prep, but also for service. One example is our noodle bowls. At first, we were blanching noodles to order. But since our station is right beside the hotline, we were introduced to the combi-oven and were able to steam them in half the time. Staffing is a concern for any small business, but we’re grateful we’ve been able to build our team purely from referrals and word-of-mouth.
Coho: Can you share any advice for future food entrepreneurs?
Our biggest piece of advice for future food entrepreneurs is to make the food you genuinely love to eat. During our R&D process, creatively we’d hit a wall trying to follow trends or introduce items that made sense operationally. It’s an ongoing process for us to learn as we continue to grow, but if you make food that you love to eat, from there, your passion will be delivered in any dish you create or execute.
Coho: Why did you choose to work in a commissary kitchen? What are the top benefits?
The cost of opening a restaurant is a huge financial responsibility. On top of that, it’s also a huge life commitment. Khỏe is personally funded by the two of us, so we chose to start in a commissary kitchen because the initial barrier to opening a food business was much lower.
It’s pretty neat and inspiring to be surrounded by many other small business owners and food businesses - many of which are run by other BIPOC. When we first started at Coho we applied as a food manufacturer, to make vegan spring rolls for wholesale.
From working beside so many ghost kitchens like Brick & Cheese, Takenaka, Van Suya, Umami Kitchen, we were actually introduced to the concept of a ghost kitchen at Coho. Being able to connect with similar-minded people in the same space has been helpful for so many reasons. However, being able to share packaging suppliers and food suppliers, as well as using Coho Coffee to take photos and host popups, has all been really helpful.
Coho: What are your long-term business growth plans? Do you anticipate always having a commissary hub for your business?
Right now, we’re still focused on expanding and growing Khỏe and đói. We hope to be able to expand our menu, and possibly host more seated pop-ups, similar to the one we held last December with Coho. For the foreseeable future, we see ourselves sticking with the commissary at Coho.
Coho: How do you define success?
Well, we wouldn’t say we define success by this, but we do derive a lot of happiness seeing our business grow from where we first started and how much we’ve learned. We also get a lot of joy from small moments like reading all the messages or reviews we receive on Ubereats, Doordash or our social media pages.
I’d say we are pretty grateful to be able to be doing this, and we’re happy doing it. Our passions have changed since we first started until now, but we have no regrets.
Coho: Would you recommend Coho to other food businesses? If so (we hope so!), why?
If you’re looking to try out a new venture, most definitely. There’s a lot less risk and less overhead costs starting out in a commissary kitchen like Coho. We actually did a lot of trial and error with a few other business models before finding what works best for Khỏe. And we couldn’t have done without the flexibility of working out of a shared commissary.
By joining Coho, Julia and Paul were able to validate their business model, alongside a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.
And from using the wealth of commissary benefits like access to equipment, shared resources and retail space, they were able to scale their business into what it is today.
If you’d like to hear more about small businesses thriving in commissary kitchens, read more below!