I am talking to Tina from Viet Nom Nom on 21 Liardet Street, New Plymouth. The radio plays in the background, giving it a lively atmosphere. Tina, a lovely lady with a friendly, smiling face comes from Vietnam. “Have you always been in the food industry?” I ask.
“No. I actually got two degrees in teaching and early childhood education,” Tina replies. “I was teaching in Vietnam for two and a half years, and also in New Zealand for six years before I stepped into the food industry.” She laughs.
The salary and the traffic were the two main reasons Tina was interested to leave Vietnam. “When I finished work at five I would usually just stay to work until seven o’clock when the traffic died down. I wasn’t living close to the CBD so the traffic was crazy. I just wanted a change and do something different. New Zealand wasn’t on the list,” she tells me. Actually America was the place I was thinking of going because I’ve got a sister living in America. But I applied and got a scholarship in New Zealand. So I thought: ‘I just got to go.’ I did not know much about New Zealand but definitely I am in love with the country and I wouldn’t wanna go anywhere else.” She laughs.
“It was August 2009 when I moved to New Zealand, when it was winter – it was cold. I moved to Palmerston North. That is where I did my degree for teaching. I met my husband at uni. We moved to Taranaki because he got a job here. I love Taranaki,” she reveals.
“When I arrived in New Zealand the language definitely was the first challenge I had to deal with. I had to work to pay for my own fees and also my living costs. So that was a challenge as well, but it’s all good,” Tina reassures me. “I was working part time. I was relieving as well at the daycare and I also worked at New World at the deli,” she explains. “I do love working in the kitchen and I enjoyed it. But it’s doable. You just gotta be prepared to work hard so it’s good.”
Originally Tina’s sister who lives in Vietnam was thinking about investing in New Zealand and open a restaurant in New Plymouth. She asked Tina to do market research for her. “But then the visa situation did not allow her to come so she couldn’t make it and I kind of like was left in the middle,” Tina explains. “I thought: ‘What am I gonna do now?’ But as soon as I started it it got a really good response from people. People loved it. It’s just kind of like… I didn’t choose the job but the job chose me. People liked it and that’s how Viet Nom Nom started,” she says.
“That’s proving success isn’t it,” I say.
She laughs. “I remember it started it at the seaside market as the first place I went to, in a gazebo. We just did spring rolls and they sold out within an hour and a half. We were like: ‘OK!’ So definitely there’s a market for Vietnamese food. And we kind of achieved it but it took me a while to decide: Should I just leave the teaching on the side and go for this? It took me a few years actually to decide,” Tina confesses. “Because I did love my job.
My husband did support me when we just started with the gazebo. Just he, myself and a few friends came to help us – kind of like a family business thing. We just pretty much did that for the whole year, the seaside market. That’s how we started it. After two years – as it’s really hard on your body when you do the gazebo – you have to carry lots of stuff – we decided to buy a van and turn it into a food truck. I completely quit my teaching job,” Tina continues. “I worked through part of my relieving as I didn’t want to be a full time teacher so I could spend more time at the food truck. But in the long run I just quit my job because I couldn’t handle both. When I came back from a holiday in August last year this space became available so we were very lucky. I’m full time at Viet Nom Nom now,” she adds.
“What is your role in the business?” I ask.
“I’m kind of like a chef or a cook, and also as the front of house if I need it to be. But mainly I’m a cook.
Opening times are from Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner. It’s really nice and chilled. The food has a street food feel to it. We have burgers, and smoked meats.”
“What is the sort of food we can expect from you at the Extravaganza?”
“That will be something fresh and healthy,” Tina tells me. “I will be making a Vietnamese rice noodle salad, and there’s an option of protein you can choose from like roasted pork belly or lemon grass chicken, or we got tofu as a vegan option as well. So we have options for people who can’t have dairy, or have a gluten free diet. Then there is the Bao Bun with the sandwich option with different proteins in there. Also we will do a Vietnamese Bagette, and spring roll – the fresh one,” she adds. We do drinks as well. We have bubble tea and home made iced tea and things like that.”
I want to know what a Bao Bun is.
“Vietnam was colonised by Chinese for a thousand years so our food was influenced by China. So Bao Bun is a fluffy bun, soft and sweet and you can fill it up with different veggies and meats in there.”
“And what is bubble tea?” I ask.
“Bubble tea is kind of like a milk tea, originally from Taiwan. It’s got tapioca and different jelly toppings. It’s kind of like an Asian milkshake. It is a cold drink,” Tina explains.
We are nearing the end of our interview and I want to know how Tina sees the foreseeable future. “Having the business here is quite a good thing but there are still lots of things to improve from here,” she says. “Definitely. I’m proud of it but I am still working on it. I take it as it comes and just make the most of it, of whatever I have. It’s simple that way.”
“It s a good attitude to have,” I say.
She laughs. “I will stay here because I really love working here. I really enjoy the people and the environment and the vibes we have here. So I definitely want to stay here and get my truck running. We’re still working on it but it’s nearly there. My goal is to just be here and do events, markets and weddings on the truck if it is possible. Thats what I want to do,” she says.