And just like that, we’re back. Sprudge Media Network is beyond thrilled, really chuffed, to return to our long-treasured annual survey of new coffee bars around the world, a feature series we call the Build-Outs of Coffee. Between now and September you’ll be presented with a global cavalcade of brand new, newly opened, or under construction coffee spaces from an international coterie of entrepreneurial coffee pros. We are delighted to be back in 2021. The thrill of the build returns!
For our very first entry in the 2021 Build-Outs season, we’re looking to a longtime source of inspiration and excellence in the global coffee field: Will Frith. He’s a member of the inaugural Sprudge Twenty class, the founder of a co-roasting space and community hub in Ho Chi Minh City, and a champion of the Vietnamese coffee industry. This subject was explored in-depth in a recent Sprudge Podcast Network interview with Umeko Motoyoshi—that episode makes a fine listening companion to this feature.
There’s no better project suited to kick-off Build-Outs than the latest from Frith and his collaborators in HCMC. The new project is a coffee and wine bar called BEL. This is going to be an intensely global season of Build-Outs, with upcoming spotlights stretching from Manchester to Ecuador to Auckland, and we’re chuffed to have you along for the ride. It’s Build-Outs time!
As told to Sprudge by Kel Norman.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
My partner Will Frith and I created building coffee with a couple of local coffee friends in 2018. We’re Saigon’s source for quality coffee, led by industry veterans. We source the best coffees from around the world, including from our partners here in Vietnam. We apply the same attention to training, consulting, and quality control, and win customers with our world-class reputation. BEL is our first retail project!
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
BEL is an all-day coffee shop and wine bar that we’re opening with our friend Dan Sousanis, a Level 2 Sommelier. We’re located on the ground floor of the Belong building, a new apartment community concept by the Aspire Company, who approached building coffee seeking a cafe.
What’s your approach to coffee?
Use good stuff, prepare it well, make it fun and accessible, and provide as much relevant context as possible. In addition to yummy imported coffees, we plan to leverage our (in-person) direct relationships with Vietnamese arabica producers, and our partnership with building coffee (our roaster), to showcase the good work they do. We have a unique feedback loop with farmers here in Vietnam, many of whom make it down to the city for new crop celebrations to taste their product in a cafe environment, and we feel really lucky that we get to collaborate that way.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We’ve partnered with Gaea, a wholesale and machine supplier, who are introducing the Slayer Steam into this market. Ours is a bone beige two-group LPX and we’re already in love even though it’s still working its way through customs right now.
How is your project considering sustainability?
The above direct-trade relationship with farmers, for one thing. It’s really cool to build a cafe at origin (or at least roughly 300km from origin), and as a result our locally-grown coffees have a tiny carbon footprint. We’re also sourcing locally-recycled mixed plastic terrazzo (it looks really cool) for our counter and tabletops, and using as much second-hand equipment and building materials as we can get our hands on—which is sadly easy in this COVID-weary time. We were really lucky to source some microfiber vegan leather from MFL Vietnam, too. Finally, we’re partnering with KOTO (Know One, Teach One), a social enterprise that seeks to end the cycle of poverty for disadvantaged youth, to create and deliver a simple food menu that we’re really excited about.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
Fingers crossed we’ll have a soft opening in the middle of June 2021. There’s currently a fourth wave of COVID making its way around the North, but the government here has been incredibly efficient in contact tracing and localized lockdowns, so we feel pretty safe and confident that we’ll be able to open in June.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Our award-winning designer buddy Josh Breidenbach has done our branding, and he’s also going to contribute a large-scale original painting to the cafe. Our friend Octobear is doing a street art installation on a big wall that faces our entrance. Our friends at Saigon River Factory have done our outdoor tables and indoor concrete. The banquettes and counter stools are being built by a local Taiwanese-Vietnamese builder called C&J and they’ve been incredibly versatile and flexible with the project. To save money Kel has designed the place herself—her first top-to-bottom project. She’s done interiors and furniture design but never a whole shop.