Proud immigrant shares culture with new Metro Detroit Vietnamese fusion eatery

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WARREN, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) – Dedication, representation, and giving back to her community are just a few words to describe the character and mission of Alice Nguyen, owner of 88 Banh Mi and Bowl in Warren. 

The new Vietnamese fusion eatery opened in late June and is off Dequindre Road, just north of 12 Mile.

Nguyen immigrated to the United States from Vietnam when she was 18. Her pursuit of the American Dream began as a nail technician in Metro Detroit. Five years later, Nguyen aspired to not only share her Vietnamese culture with Metro Detroit but also open her very own restaurant featuring the staple of her nation’s cuisine – the banh mi sandwich.

“It’s been like five years since the first time I wanted to open a banh mi shop. I got the idea because in Michigan, I want to bring Vietnamese culture, especially banh mi, to everybody,” Nguyen said.

So, what is banh mi? 

It’s a casual sandwich on buttered short baguette bread with a mayonnaise or pâté spread, often packed with a selection of meats and a variety of sliced vegetables. 

The sandwich emerged during French colonial rule in the early 1900s. The French introduced baguette bread to Vietnamese cuisine, which would go on to influence the banh mi. According to Nguyen, there are a few key ingredients and distinctions that make a good banh mi sandwich.

“You have to have a good bread first. Have to have a fresh bread, baked daily. And the most important thing is butter and pâté. It’s the hidden gem right there. If you have no good butter or pâté, that’s homemade, the banh mi is going to fail, and the banh mi has to be made with love. That’s the secret right there,” Nguyen said. 

Along with wanting to see more Vietnamese representation around Detroit, Nguyen highlighted some important values of her culture that play an active role at 88 Banh Mi — family and community. Nguyen attributes most of her success and support to her mother, who inspired the menu and is a driving force in the kitchen — seven days a week.

“So, for this business, I’m really glad that I had my mom help me full-time with this. She’s making fresh bread every day, checks to make sure that everything’s good. She checked out, and she gave me all the ideas to come up with all the menu and stuff, too, because she has more experience on life and how people react to things,” Nguyen said.

This tight-knit kitchen honors its traditions and culture, focusing on its community and giving to those in need or who need support. Nguyen and her team bake daily batches of baseball-sized toasted buttered bread slices. The crew then bags them up for distribution in Detroit at the end of each week and for the holidays.

“For Thanksgiving and Christmas, me and the team are going to come down to Detroit and go to whoever’s in need. We’re going to gather the group to cook for homeless people in Detroit because we have family here, but they don’t. So, we want to spread out all the love from us to them,” Nguyen said.

As her banh mi business grows, Nguyen plans to open more locations around Metro Detroit. She has her sights set on areas like Rochester, Ann Arbor and Novi.  

While Nguyen explained her goals, a common theme emerged that connected them all – her gratefulness for her family and friends around her, the very bonds that fuel the growth and future of 88 Banh Mi.

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