With her family sound asleep at night, Chloe Tran, then just 10 years old, crept into her kitchen to learn how to bake a cake.
“The cake didn’t turn out very well,” Tran said laughing. “It was a little dense. I think it was edible.”
It didn’t matter. On this night in Saigon, Vietnam, Tran said her love for food creation began. She learned how much she enjoyed the act of following a recipe, putting ingredients together and creating something cohesive.
From then on, Tran dedicated every moment she could to learning how to cook.
“If there were months when I didn’t have school, I would train myself every day,” Tran said. “I would save money for ingredients. I’d do bake sales. I’d write (food) articles for online newspapers.”
Her cooking hobby became a passion, and as she grew older, Tran was determined to make it her career.
Tran moved to Bellevue five years ago. She’s now a junior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha studying business.
In Bellevue, she started to experiment with cooking Vietnamese food. She tried numerous recipes her family taste tested. She dreamed of opening a restaurant.
With financial help from family, the full-time college student opened a Vietnamese restaurant in mid-November. The Bánh Mì Shop at 923 Galvin Road S. sells Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, as well as tea — including boba, jelly and milk tea — coffee and smoothies.
Banh mi sandwiches can be found on every street corner in Vietnam, Tran said, and are gaining popularity on the coasts. With Offutt Air Force Base and Bellevue University’s international students, Tran said she saw a need for this kind of food in town.
When starting the business, she asked Rachel Luck, a 2015 Bellevue West graduate and also a UNO student, to assist. The two met while working at another Vietnamese restaurant. Luck manages media relations among other duties.
“She was telling me about this and part of me was like, you’ve got to be crazy,” Luck said. “But, I was also like, this is something that does not exist in Bellevue … I think we’re filling a spot that’s really missing in Bellevue.”
That spot she’s referring to is not only authentic banh mi sandwiches, but also a quick and healthy option.
Tran uses natural food without monosodium glutamate. Banh mi is a good representation of the typical Vietnamese diet — light and flavorful — Tran said.
When it opened, hundreds were coming in each day to try the authentic dish. The first day open, a line of customers filed out the door. They served so many, they ran out of bread.
The first few weeks were a little terrifying, Tran said, but she pushed through.
Traffic has slowed a bit recently, which Tran speculates is due to the spell of freezing temperatures.
Many have wandered into Bánh Mì with no knowledge of the food. Tran welcomes those people by helping them pick out a sandwich they might like. Food is a great way to connect with people and share her culture, Tran said.
Looking toward the future, Tran wants to make service even faster, in order to become a healthy fast-food joint, and potentially add more locations.
She’s also looking into offering delivery and adding traditional bubble tea snacks to the menu.
Tran doesn’t mind all the hard work it takes to start and manage a business.
“It’s like having a baby,” Tran said. “You’re going to have to put all that work down in the beginning if you really want it to work. It really motivates me to see the place become what it is.”
Bánh Mì is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. More information can be found on its website, thebanhmis.com.