When Duc Nguyen would travel from his home in Milwaukee to Chicago, he’d always seek out his favorite Vietnamese ché drinks and desserts at Bambu. There was nothing like it in Milwaukee.
Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam and came to Milwaukee with his family when he was 8, grew up with his parents running a restaurant on the south side. Food has always been a way to connect to his community, so when he got the opportunity he worked with the franchise to open his own Bambu.
Located at 10708 W. Oklahoma Ave., West Allis, it is just doors away from Nguyen’s other business, D&E Nail Supply. He starts every morning cooking for Bambu, where the menu is vegetarian and gluten-free, and the majority of ingredients are prepared in-house for the ché, teas and smoothies.
Nguyen lives in Milwaukee with his wife, Bich, and their two children.
Bringing Bambu to Milwaukee
Being born in Vietnam, the traditional ché is what we grew up eating. My family came to Milwaukee in 1991, and the closest things you can get is when you go to a Vietnamese restaurant, and this is not their forté. I’d always have to get it when I went to Chicago.
Why not bring the franchise to Milwaukee where we don’t have anything like it.
It is a franchise, but we do a lot of hands-on. All the cooking is done daily. This is not pre-made already and we bring it in from the franchise and prepare it in the cup. It is a lot of cooking, and that’s why I chose Bambu.
His sweet start
Before Bambu my family was in the restaurant business. We had Saigon Vietnamese restaurant on 19th and National back then. My parents ran that for about 10 years, and then my sister ran a Chinese restaurant in Menomonee Falls. That’s where the food background comes around.
There are seven siblings, and I’m number five. After my parents retired, we all got away from the restaurant business. We went into the nails, and my brother and sister are still doing nails.
I think food is kind of something people have in common. It is something to enjoy, and I feel ché is something newer to people.
I want them to learn more about Vietnamese food. Vietnamese food has blown up, a lot of people know the pho, the Vietnamese comfort food, but not as many know the desserts.
At Bambu we serve the desserts, the boba, tea and smoothies. Boba is trending right now, and everyone wants to try it.
Boba it is a Taiwanese thing, and then everyone adapted it in restaurants. It is popular in Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants. The bobas are all over social media and TikTok.
Boba is an add-in for your smoothies, coffees, teas, and even your ché, so everyone is catching on in this fad and interest is growing.
I think social media is a big, big part in any business that wants to get their product and name out there. It just opens people to trying new things. it makes them more comfortable.
Boba is a big, big thing in places like California and Houston, but here a lot of customers still don’t know what boba are and they want to try it.
What is ché?
Dessert. People are surprised by the desserts, but once they try them they come back.
Ché, there are different variations. Some ché are made with coconut milk or coconut water, those two are the base for the drink. Then depending on which you pick, there are 15 ché on our menu.
There are some that can have just jelly and red tapioca. There is ché made with beans we cook with sugar so it is sweet. There is also taro, so there are many different variations. There is also one made with fruits, all tropical fruits, lychee, longan, coconut meat.
Our Number 10, made with a jelly we make in house and red tapioca. That’s our No.1 hit. A lot of of our ingredients are made in-house. The beans we cook in house, the red bean, the mung beans and the taro are all cooked in house. Red tapioca is done in-house, too. Then black jelly, some boba shops call it herbal jelly, we make that in-house as well.
A sweet sip
Vietnamese coffee is simple. The traditional, what we have on our menu, is the iced coffee. It is a lot stronger. You get a bigger kick than I think you get at Starbucks.
We sweeten it with condensed milk, the traditional Vietnamese way of drinking it. It is either made with condensed milk or black with sugar, but the condensed milk gives this creamy texture and obviously sweetens this strong coffee.
We don’t add in any half and half or other things. It is always served over ice. We have a version of the traditional hot, but there is half and half in there, so it is a little different.
We also offer hazelnut, salted caramel and a cafe latte, all those are available hot for customers as well.
The best seller
We have the menu for the ché, the teas, smoothies and coffee. I’ve seen one drink in each menu become popular.
For coffee, the traditional Vietnamese and salted caramel are hits. Our smoothies the mangonada and mango smoothie are popular.
Our Thai tea is different than what you get in a Thai restaurant. We cook it every morning with Thai tea leaves. We don’t use any powders, and the taro milk teas and black teas are popular too.
The ché, the halo-halo is really big with the Filipino community. It is our spin on the Filipino dessert.
His home cooking
The pho, that’s like our comfort food. I always ask my wife for that, especially as we come to winter. It is so nice to come home to a nice hot steaming bowl of broth.
Fork. Spoon. Life. explores the everyday relationship that local notables (within the food community and without) have with food. To suggest future personalities to profile, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
10708 W. Oklahoma Ave., West Allis
Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.
DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bambu: Vietnamese native brings his favorite ché to West Allis