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How Banh Mi Truck Saigon Le Vendeur Is Adapting During COVID-19

Without tourists or office workers, the popular Vietnamese food truck is closing its downtown location.

Closeup of a banh mi with meat, carrots, cucumber, and cilantro on a wooden picnic table
Banh mi from Saigon Le Vendeur
Saigon Le Vendeur/Facebook
Erin Russell is associate editor of Eater Austin, a native Austinite, and a big fan of carbs.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Eater checked in with Austin’s defining restaurants to see how the pandemic has affected business, service models, and more. This week, Tebi Nguyen, owner of Vietnamese restaurant and food truck Saigon Le Vendeur.

Eater: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected business?
Tebi Nguyen: As you know, there are a lot of small locally owned businesses which are suffering from the pandemic, and we are no different. We decided to close our truck at Third Street and Congress Avenue. We tried to reopen for a period of time after the shutdown lifted, but business was not enough to keep us in operation, for even paying the rent or our employees (total sales were under $1,300 between June and the beginning of August). Food trucks and restaurants in downtown Austin survive mostly from office employees and partly from tourists, and with both sources gone, we are left suffering.

We have three locations, the other two locations are making enough, so closing Third Street will be the best option for us to help stop the bleeding. It’s a hard decision but it has to be done. I was paying the rent from my own budget since breaking the lease might hurt everyone that involved in this location.

What is the current service model?
Since we are a food truck, we are already doing takeaway only, but we still closed off our garden seating area for extra safety for our staff.

Have you made any changes due to COVID-19?
We thought about adding a delivery service by our own staff if they were willing or felt safe to do so, but we didn’t have enough people to make it work.

How has business been so far?
Every day is a new challenge in this sensitive time for us, but we have to give a really big thank you and appreciation to our customers for continuing to support us throughout this time and our staffs who have been continuing to rock with us.

There is always a silver lining, a rainbow at the end of the storm, but honestly, all of small locally owned businesses won’t see it soon. I hope we all are going to make through the other side, but right now, we just want to make sure our staff is safe and get their pay on time. Our goal now is just to stay afloat, keep our staff safe and healthy, and maintain our food quality.

What are some challenges that you’ve encountered?
Around mid-April, we were lucky enough to received Paycheck Protection Program loans, which helped us keep 75 percent of our staff, but in the early July, we were down to 50 to 60 percent of our staff. Some of my staff had to move out of Austin since they can’t afford rent, and we are stuck in a situation where we cannot help.

We are not and cannot be sure how the future will turn out for us and other restaurant/bar businesses, but as right now, nothing is the same, every day is different. We are trying our best every day to hang on until we cannot anymore.

Saigon Le Vendeur [Downtown]

Congress Avenue and 3rd Street, Austin, Texas 78701 Visit Website

Saigon Le Vendeur Food Truck [Closed]

2404 East 7th Street, , TX 78702 (512) 351-6916 Visit Website