Scott Million moved to Vietnam from the US and immediately began work as a teacher. Nhai ‘Jasmine’ Pham moved to Ho Chi Minh City with designs on starting an eatery, following years working in the restaurant business in Hanoi.
The two of them put their heads together about how to best make use of their backgrounds, and the concept they created was Ninja Juice, located in the multi-cultural Hoang Anh Gia Lai 3 compound in District 7.
“I wanted to pick an icon that westerners, Koreans, Vietnamese, anyone could identify with,” Scott says. “A ninja is something that everyone thinks is cool.”
HAGL 3 houses Vietnamese, Canadians, Filipinos, Americans, Australians, Cubans, South Koreans and British in its four towers of apartment block, an eclectic mix is also reflected in what and how customers order from Ninja Juice.
“Vietnamese like more condensed milk than Koreans or westerners,” Scott says of the juice culture clash. “And westerners order delivery more (by phone). Vietnamese would rather come to the shopfront.”
It’s All About the Smoothies
Matching the colourful signage and backdrop of the storefront, the smoothies and other drinks are equally flash. A personal favourite among the smoothies is the ‘Battle Berry’, which features strawberries, kiwi and banana. The ‘Coconut Mercenary’ is a coconut/mango concoction, while the ‘Melon Master’ features watermelon, jackfruit and passion fruit. All smoothies are VND30,000, while juices are VND25,000.
The shopfront is also proving to be a good place to network among the four 25-storey blocks at HAGL 3. Nhai says she finds herself creating connections between customers, for everything from apartment rentals to finding a good house cleaner to English tutors.
“When I started doing Ninja Juice, I started meeting a lot of different people,” Nhai says. “I understand (the interests) of a lot of Vietnamese and foreign people.”
Ample repeat business shows that the couple has a good grasp of what their customers want, with updates to the menu worked in. Beer, yogurt parfaits, bagels and coffee — and some killer cocktails — are also available.
“A ninja is quick,” Nhai says. “When people think of us, they think of good quality and [quickness].”
While launching a venture in Vietnam has its ups and downs, Scott has this piece of advice for would-be entrepreneurs.
“Having business hours from 6am to 10pm is a mistake,” he says with a groggy grin. “Don’t ever do it!” — Harry Hodge
Ninja Juice is located on the ground floor of the ‘C’ block of Hoang Anh Gia Lai 3, on Nguyen Huu Tho, Q7. They’re open seven days a week