Sipping on a hot bowl of soup is a soothing tradition that spans cultures worldwide. In Vietnam, a hot bowl of pho is more than the countries go-to noodle dish: it is a source of medicine, connection, and cultural pride.
On Sept. 24, Sincero Cafe (website) is opening its doors to Revelstoke, finally filling the demand for a Vietnamese restaurant in town. Nestled in the newly constructed 411 First Street West building, this family-run business is owned by husband-wife duo Andy and Theresa Nguyen.
The cozy restaurant’s small space and specialized menu reflect the Nguyen’s overall business philosophy.
“When we open this cafe, while we think that it is small, we want it to be a proud thing as well [for the] Vietnamese culture and the Vietnamese people,” shares Theresa as she organizes cups behind the cafe’s counter.
Before opening Sincero Cafe, Andy and Theresa drove as far as Kelowna for their staple comfort foods. The closure of Minh Tuyet’s Vietnamese Bistro left a pho-shaped hole in Revelstoke’s culinary scene; one that the Nguyen’s observed while sharing meals with friends and family.
“When we talked to people, [they said] they miss Vietnamese food. Even when we wanted to have some pho, we had to go out of town. That’s why we opened up here,” says Andy.
Serving and sourcing ingredients with pride
Simply filling the demand for Vietnamese food is not enough for the Nguyen’s. The restaurant’s simple menu reflects their attention to detail; by focusing on a few staple dishes, the Nguyen’s can ensure they are sourcing authentic ingredients.
When selecting suppliers for those ingredients, Theresa Nguyen refuses to compromise. For example, Sincero Cafe serves authentic Vietnamese coffee using beans directly imported from Vietnam. As Theresa explains, the extra cost is worth the authenticity. Simply put, she aims to recreate dishes exactly as they taste in Vietnam.
Given Revelstoke’s remote location, being picky about ingredients requires innovation and sacrifice. When the restaurant’s preferred pho noodle and rice paper supplier would not deliver to town, the Nguyen’s drove to Vancouver to pick up the ingredients themselves.
While the menu seems simple, preparing the bases of Vietnamese dishes takes time and patience. The bone broth used in their soups takes six to eight hours to cook every night. This gives a distinct “sweet and clean” flavour, as described by Andy. According to the restauranteur, Vietnamese food is all about balance. This means pairing slow-cooked, savoury bone broths with fresh herbs and vegetables.
In addition to pho and coffee, Sincero Cafe serves authentic Banh Mi, fresh spring rolls, and Vietnamese wonton soup.
Using food as an intercultural connector
Before moving to Canada from Saigon, Vietnam, Theresa Nguyen spent many years traveling and studying abroad. From a young age, she was taught to be an ambassador for her country and her culture.
“My mum used to tell me that, ‘When you go out, you must tell people that you’re Vietnamese, and let people know that there’s good Vietnamese around,'” recollects Theresa. As she explains, she has experienced negative stereotypes surrounding her people and culture. During her travels, she encountered surprised reactions after revealing her heritage, stating that many people assumed she was Japanese upon meeting her.
“Just because we are a poor country, we have a bad reputation,” Theresa elaborates. Now, she is using food to fight those negative stereotypes while simultaneously teaching people about her culture.
However, the Nguyen’s Vietnamese pride extends beyond their country’s cuisine. The space boasts images of Vietnam’s diverse landscape, and is decorated with small items brought to Canada by the couple. Stretching across one wall is a photo taken by Theresa’s father in Northern Vietnam. It shows rural Vietnamese farmers working under the shelter of a tree canopy; the same tree canopy that appears in the restaurant’s logo.
Adapting to small spaces and a changing restaurant industry
As the restaurant industry recovers and adapts to a post-pandemic world, Sincero Cafe is leaning into new dining trends that emerged from the pandemic.
Amongst a shortage of commercial spaces in Revelstoke, the Nguyen’s are embracing their small space by focusing on takeout. Their dining room seats 10 guests, and their website is set up for convenient online ordering. According to Andy, this approach feels safer given the changing restrictions.
Built by Jordan Cochrane Construction Ltd., Sincero Cafe occupies the token commercial space in the new 411 First Street West building. The building is owned by Mass Spataro; a longterm Revelstoke restauranteur and realtor.
Although Andy acknowledges the uncertainty of opening a new restaurant, he is optimistic about the future of Sincero Cafe. The healing properties of pho can soothe a wide range of illnesses that arise in Revelstoke; even the self-inflicted ones.
“When you feel tired, exhausted, or even a little bit drunk,” adds Andy with a chuckle, “you have it [pho] and it’s like a push of power and you’re back to normal.”