It can be daunting to open a coffee shop in the competitive coffee city of Portland, OR. Opening one during a pandemic adds another layer to the stress. But for one Portland local, the opportunity to celebrate her culture and follow a passion was worth the risk. In the spring of 2021, owner Kimberly Dam opened Portland Cà Phê in the Southeast side of town. The 1,000-square-foot coffee shop pays homage to her Vietnamese roots as she looks to represent her heritage through her food, drinks, and overall experience.
While a project like this may be new to most, it’s familiar territory for Dam. Dam has worked within the service industry for quite a while—it’s essentially the family business. Growing up in the Gateway area of Portland’s Southeast, she leaned in and assisted at her mother’s restaurant, The House of Bành Mì. With the restaurant’s mission to fuse the authentic taste of Vietnam with Portland’s modern style, Dam is accustomed to providing high-quality experiences for the community. She officially started her coffee journey back in 2013 and would hold jobs as a barista and manager over the course of five years. Eventually, Dam would land a role within the Social Services field in 2017, a job that she parlayed while working at a coffee shop. During the pandemic, she got back into roasting coffee during her downtime, and eventually started to roast for her family’s restaurant. Due to the success of her coffee roasting, and the support of the community, Portland Cà Phê fully bloomed into a coffee shop.
Opening their doors on April 23rd, Portland Cà Phê received an extremely warm welcome from customers and fellow members of the coffee industry. With a line down the block during their “soft opening,” the community was excited for a new Cà Phê experience in Portland.
“We feel we’ve been a good fit in the neighborhood thus far; everyone’s been great,” Dam tells me.
Since opening, the consumer sentiment around their shop has been overwhelmingly positive. While serving coffee from the Central Highlands of Vietnam, Dam has been unwavering on her approach of providing an unapologetically Vietnamese cafe experience. For guests that means Vietnamese coffee alongside outstanding bành mì, resulting in an unparalleled food and drink combo. While they do serve traditional coffee favorites, their ube latte is by far their most popular drink. Whether it’s due to the taste, or for portrait purposes, people from all over the city are flocking to their shop and trying the drink derived from a purple yam.
Although a consistent flow of traffic is ideal for new coffee shops, it can also provide issues with efficiency. Luckily, they’re equipped to keep pace. Portland Cà Phê is one of the only shops in the area that has the Elektra Kup espresso machine on bar. The machine is unique for a few reasons, one being that both steam wands are located on one side of the machine. This subtlety makes it easier for the staff to produce quality drinks, faster. For their grinders, they opted for the Fiorenzato F64 Evo espresso grinder and the Mahlkönig GH2. Finally, they use a phin for their Vietnamese coffee, and their “hot ones.” Described as a mixture of a French press and pour-over, the phin is vital for one of their most popular drinks. The phin can be purchased in the shop with the accompanying handwritten steps on how to use it.
Based on the early success of Portland Cà Phê, the team feels optimism about what the future holds for the shop, and rightfully so. The high volume of customers visiting daily provides them that vote of confidence. In fact, Dam recently left her day job and can now fully focus on her business. This allows Dam to devote her time doing something that fills her proverbial cup.
“I’m a firm believer in investing in what makes you happy, and this coffee stuff makes me happy,” says Dam.
As Dam doubles down on her investment into Portland Cà Phê, the coffee community has been supportive of her and the staff’s efforts. The momentum around this coffee shop hasn’t stopped since their opening. As it stands now, Dam’s risk was worth the reward.
Giovanni Fillari is Brand Marketing Specialist at Nike and the publisher of @coffeefeedpdx. He is the honorable mention Sprudgie Award recipient for Social Media in 2018. Read more Giovanni Fillari for Sprudge.