In the space of the past year or so, Michael ‘Bao’ Huynh has more resembled a whirling dervish than a chef, opening Bar Bao, Pho Sure, and a host of Baoguettes. Currently, he’s readying his latest project, Bia Garden, for its opening, working on O Bao Noodles & Grill in Midtown, constructing another Baoguette outpost in the Financial District, and preparing to open B3, a “fresh market Vietnamese inspired” restaurant on Clinton Street, this November. Somehow, he found a few minutes to speak with Fork in the Road.
So, when is Bia Garden officially open?
Probably Monday. We’re ready to go, but want to make sure everything’s in place.
Where’d the idea for a Vietnamese beer garden come from?
I’ve wanted to do an Asian beer garden for three or four years; finding space was difficult. In Vietnam everyone socializes after work with beer; Asians drink more beer than Americans and Germans, like five times more. Everywhere you go, they bring you a case.
You’re opening in a neighborhood that’s already saturated with bars. Did you meet any resistance from the community?
No. I have beer and wine license, so it wasn’t that difficult. People in the community know me, and know I have Bao 111 and two other places. They know I’m a good guy.
You’re also working on a new noodle bar, O Bao.
It’s more like noodles and barbecue from around Asia. We have pad thai, pad see ew, but we make it better. We’ve also got Singapore noodles, which I make with black soba; it’s better than the original one with vermicelli. We’ll have a full liquor license and open kitchen there. It’ll be like Republic, but better. Most things will be under $10. We’ll open in the beginning of September, maybe the 15th.
And you’re also planning more Baoguettes.
We’re constructing one downtown, and there will be six more after this. They’ll be throughout the city. The next step is to go to the waterfront in Williamsburg; I’m working on a lease right now at North Fifth and Kent. It’s going to be for a small seafood restaurant, something very affordable. It should open next year.
You’re one of the most prolific restaurateurs in town. What’s motivated you to expand so quickly?
I remember reading something by Donald Trump where he said you can make money in bad times. It’s true. [This year] every landlord gives up space for at least 25 percent cheaper. We should get it before next year, when we might get nothing. It’s a gamble. In good times, you move fast. In bad times, you slow down. [I] always look for stores, and do everything myself; I’m an architect, contractor, and builder. This year, we go small. Next year, we go big.
Any plans to expand beyond New York?
We’ve been getting calls from Atlantic City and Vegas. We’re still working on everything, and waiting for things.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 14, 2009