What once was a plain brown trailer listed on Facebook Marketplace is now a vibrantly painted business-on-wheels known as Cafe Cà Phê, the first Vietnamese coffee truck in Kansas City.
Owner Jackie Nguyen, a Vietnamese American and daughter of a refugee, opened the business after deciding to end her career as a Broadway actress in New York City.
Nguyen was inspired by the slower-paced, familial atmosphere and distinct drink flavors she experienced in coffee shops while on vacation in Vietnam.
”I think with coffee shops in the U.S., it’s shifted into work-mode or meetings, ... but you don’t stay there that long,” Nguyen said. “You just sit, have a cup of coffee and then you leave. In Vietnam, people will chill for hours, and I loved it.”
After moving to Kansas City, her boyfriend’s hometown, she jumped on an opportunity to purchase a used trailer for her business with hopes of expanding the Asian narrative in the Midwest.
Since its grand opening on Halloween, Cafe Cà Phê has been serving signature Vietnamese drinks in different places throughout the city. The menu includes various kinds of lattes, teas, espresso drinks, lemonade, hot chocolate and other beverages that use ingredients common in the country’s drink culture.
The most popular drink is The Saigon, an iced coffee named after the largest, most populous city in Vietnam, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.
The caffeinated drink is made of condensed milk and phin-dripped coffee, a traditional Vietnamese method of brewing that is crafted more slowly than the common drip methods in the U.S.
Customers who seek a more singular flavor in their coffee may be inclined to order the “Hella Good Latte,” the second-most popular drink on Cafe Cà Phê’s menu.
This concoction consists of Vietnamese espresso, oat milk, a condensed milk drizzle and ube, a species of purple yam that gives the drink a vibrant lavender color and sweet flavor.
Cafe Cà Phê also designates a portion of its menu to “classic drinks,” including standard beverages found in Western coffee shops. This includes black coffee, espresso shots, macchiatos, Americanos, lattes and cortados.
However, customers who order Western drinks may miss the full Vietnamese experience because Cafe Cà Phê is the only coffee shop in the Kansas City area right now that sources coffee beans directly from Vietnam for all of its caffeinated drinks.
Aside from beverages, Cafe Cà Phê sells donuts, candy, merchandise and other goods sourced from Asian businesses or other diverse creators.
“Almost every product in my shop is sourced from a woman, person of color, someone from the LGBTQ+ community, out-of-work theater artists or an Asian company,” Nguyen said.
“I want to show everyone that these are my values, and these are things that we support,” she added. “And I want to be able to bring more awareness and more financial security to the Asian community as a whole.”