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Apparently the international fast food chains are failing in Saigon. Some have closed their restaurants or cafés and some do not plan to expand, at least in the near future.


For me, that is good news on many levels; health, social, cultural and architectural. With a few exceptions, many of these places provide unhealthy food filled with an unhealthy amount of fat, salt and sugar. They displace independent restaurant owners. They compromise our culinary culture and they homogenize our cities.


Franchised Businesses Homogenize Saigon

With an emphasis on efficiency and predictability, franchised restaurants force us to consume predictable food while inhabiting predictable space. Similar to the way the menu and the food recipes are dictated by company headquarters, the architecture must be designed and built according to predetermined designs. Therefore, with a few exceptions, every franchised restaurant must look and smell and feel identical to each other in every way.


If Saigon welcomes franchised restaurants and other types of franchised businesses, soon our city would be filled with not only the international McDonald’s and Burger Kings and Subways, but also local franchises like Mon Hue and Pho 24. Soon these big corporations will quickly replace our independent business owners because the corporations can afford the rising rent while the independent business owners cannot afford to double or triple their monthly rent. As a result, Saigon would look and feel just like every other city in the developed world that has given up its character and identity.


Independent Businesses Maintain Saigon’s Heterogeneity

Fortunately, for various reasons, many independent cafés, bars and restaurants thrive in Saigon. Without any control from any headquarters, the independent owners compete with one another by providing better products and better designs.


The independent businesses are not limited to those catering to Vietnamese food and drinks. Many are locally owned burger restaurants, pizzerias, gelaterias and microbreweries. There is even a chocolatier making chocolate on the spot using Vietnamese cacao.


The designs of these places are distinct. Each place is designed and built specifically to promote the sale of the products the business makes. If Saigon welcomes this type of small independent business, our streets will be occupied by context-specific designed shops.


The result is we will continue to enjoy the heterogeneity that Saigon is known for.


Independent Businesses are Sold to Corporations

Ironically, some of these successful home-growns are being bought by the corporations. The economic gain from the selling out must be substantial enough to attract these independent entrepreneurs. L’Usine and 4P’s are examples of good quality businesses being sold to international corporations. How long can they remain good and distinctive?


Meanwhile there are still many small independent businesses in Saigon that we can still enjoy. We may have to pay a little extra for their products, but it is a small price to pay to keep Saigon a place filled with choices and possibilities.


Hoanh Tran, PhD is a design principal of Hoanh Tran Archie Pizzini Architects. Educated in the US, Hoanh now lives, practices and teaches in Ho Chi Minh City. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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