Wedged deep in an alleyway off Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, between District 1 and Binh Thanh, lies a well-kept secret filled with antiques, stylish garments and delicious cuisine. Merci Boutique Café welcomes the wandering customer.


Merci serves not just as a café but also as a display for Ha Van Ngoc and his family’s passions. Ngoc and his wife, Ha have an eye for antiques. Their oldest daughter Vy is the chef and café manager, while their youngest, Van, has a knack for style and fashion.

 

A Trip Through Time

 

 

For nearly 20 years Ngoc and his wife have been collecting and selling antiques.

 

In the years after the American War, many Vietnamese — the ‘boat people’ — fled the country on small, overcrowded vessels. The couple held onto the items left behind — silverware, glassware, authentic oil lamps, fans — and sold the refurbished pieces along Le Cong Kieu near the Fine Arts Museum, also known as Antique Street.

 

“When we look at the antiques we can feel the beauty and the historical value,” Ha explains. “You can see the beauty and the soul of the antique, the story behind the piece. It has lived so many years and it is still here.”

 

Although Ngoc and his wife stopped selling their antiques nearly eight years ago, their passion hasn’t faded. Merci serves as their own little antique shop with displays of authentic Italian Marelli fans, oil lamps, gramophones and more. Merci takes café-goers back in time.

 

A Family Thing

 

 

Pulling the name from a Vietnamese poem, Ngoc and his family wanted to convey the feeling of being grateful for things you have every day, regardless of your wealth.

 

“The story started when my parents retired from Le Cong Kieu and moved back to the house here. I quit my job, Vy quit her job and we all decided to work together,” says Van.

 

She describes fashion and design as her left-hand skill. Among the racks in the back hang formal skirts, brightly-coloured blouses and more subtle pieces. Evidence of her designs are splattered throughout the café with her choice of French accents — pink, lush lounge chairs, deep royal purple on the walls, lustrous wooden pieces — a perfect balance of chic yet comfortable décor.

 

As far as the food goes, their eldest daughter, Vy takes the reins. With a combination of western and Vietnamese-style dishes — from spaghetti Bolognese (VND42,000) and French-style steak and fries (VND40,000) to bun bo Hue (VND38,000) — her menu features fare for all palates.

 

The entire family lives on the upper levels of the café.

 

“Working together we can see each other every day,” says Van. “Every day we have breakfast, lunch or dinner together. We can talk and we can share many memories throughout the day. We are very close.”

 

Since opening in February, Merci has remained under the radar, mostly serving family friends and the few residents who happen to stumble upon them and want to keep it hush hush.

 

Secret or not, Merci deserves to be seen. Serving as a place to house these passions and dreams, whether you’re passing through or looking for a quiet café to escape to, Merci will not disappoint. — Rachel Cabakoff

 

Merci is at 93/15 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh, Binh Thanh, HCMC. Visit facebook.com/pages/Merci-Boutique-Café for a sneak peek

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