When Lubu opened just under five years ago, it was the only restaurant on the Lang Bao Chi end of Thao Dien. The Deck, Mekong Merchant, La Villa, Les Trois Gourmand, La Plancha and Papagayo were all up and running, but in this part of the suburb there wasn’t anything. Just Lubu.

For some people, being first in might be deemed a good thing, as there is no competition. You have a captive audience.

 

Yet according to Lubu’s co-owner, Jim Cawood: “It’s a misnomer that if you’re the only one, you’ll do really well.”

 

He adds: “In a city like Saigon where eating out is relatively affordable — and people eat out all the time — if you have other restaurants, then you feed off each other and you share customers.”

 

At the time, says Jim, Thao Dien was a residential area and just wasn’t a destination for eating out. So, if you wanted something easy, then maybe you’d get something to eat in District 2. Otherwise, if you wanted to go out for a meal, you generally headed into town.

 

Getting it Right

 

Jim cites four changes that have helped his restaurant overcome the hurdle of getting in the customers and getting them back again. The first, he says, was deciding to add tapas to the menu.

 

“All of a sudden, it wasn’t just about going out for a three-course dinner,” he explains. “Now you could come out and have some tapas and a drink. It just seemed to make everything a little bit more accessible.”

 

The second, he says, is what he describes as “the bugbear of every restaurant” — consistency, both in service and food. This is something that through spending so much time at the restaurant, Jim feels he’s managed to achieve.

 

Add to this the ability to be flexible when it comes to food or drink orders, and to make people feel comfortable so they are happy to come back again, then you’re starting to get a formula for a successful restaurant.

 

A Destination

 

Drive past Lubu any lunch or evening, and the restaurant is almost always busy. The reason? Not just the quality of the food and drink, or the environment, but another factor; the number of people now eating out or going drinking in Thao Dien. The difference is that with so many restaurants and bars opening up, and with all the little shops and boutiques, over the past two years, District 2 has become a destination.

 

This has benefited everybody.

 

“It’s great to have regular customers who come in three or four times a week, but if they come in any more than that, they will start to get bored,” says Jim. “With so many options available here, now they get more choice. It creates a mindset. A bit like the Refinery area in town where people say: ‘Where are we going to go?’ ‘We might meet in that area and have a drink and then go for somewhere to eat.’ Thao Dien is the same.”

 

He adds: “Take Q Bar, for example. Sometimes when I go there after work, there will be three or four tables who had dinner here before going to Q Bar for a drink. It’s self-supporting.”

 

Lubu is at 97B Thao Dien, Q2, HCMC


 

PHOTO BY NAM NGUYEN

 


To read the other articles in this series, click on the following links:


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Nick Ross

Chief editor and co-founder of Word Vietnam, Nick Ross was born in the humble city of London before moving to the less humble climes of Vietnam. His wanderings have taken him to definitely not enough corners of the globe, but being a constant optimist, he still has hopes.

Website: twitter.com/nickrossvietnam

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