Locals: Kim Tran of DD MAU
Kim Tran is the owner and voice for Vancouver favourites, DD MAU Yaletown and DD MAU Chinatown. She opened the inaugural location with her brother Kon in 2012 and later a larger, event-ready Chinatown space in 2018 to popular local reception. While the Yaletown spot focuses on grab-and-go Banh Mi take out, the Chinatown location has grown as a casual hub for after work conversation, delicious Vietnamese food, and great music. DD MAU draws inspiration from community-driven izakayas and authentic home cooking; solidifying its place as one of Vancouver’s most welcoming spots to grab a late night drink.
We recently touched base with Kim to get her take on culinary inspirations, mutual support and staying grounded through the uncertainty.
RG: First things first, we appreciate you taking time out of your day to speak with us. Staying connected and up to date with the community is such an important part of keeping all our spirits up. Maybe we could start off with an intro to see who you are and what you do in Vancouver for our readers who maybe haven’t had the chance to try your food?
KT: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to connect and I hope that everyone is staying positive. I’m originally from Edmonton, Alberta. I moved to Langley in 2000 for school and slowly found my way into the city. After being introduced to Japanese izakayas and Nobu in my early twenties, I fell in love with the whole experience and how food made me feel. I hoped to open up an izakaya in Edmonton, moved back and apprenticed as a sushi chef for a year. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but the idea of opening my own business spawned from that point on.
RG: DD MAU has two locations. The first being your Yaletown spot which functions similarly to a traditional Banh Mi joint. Then there’s the Chinatown location that opened more recently with expanded menu offerings and a much larger space. We’ve seen many great events held there that have revitalized the Chinatown scene. The late-night happy hour shows definitely come to mind. What we appreciate is the atmosphere: it’s always casual and welcoming, without any pretension. What inspired you to create that type of culture for DD MAU Chinatown?
KT: We wanted to bring the drinking and eating culture of Vietnam to the dining scene in Vancouver; almost like a Vietnamese izakaya. It’s the place you go to grab a quick lunch and then head to for drinks after work. Everyone in the neighbourhood has shown us so much support from the beginning. As a result, the events came organically. We wanted to create a place for friends to get together and enjoy good food with good energy. Late night Happy Hour is a dedication to all of you and we miss you dearly.
RG: For all of us, this crisis came at a very unexpected time. We’ve had so many life plans suddenly interrupted by having to close last month. What were you working on around that time? Any projects or events for DD MAU that you’d like to share?
KT: It’s really heartbreaking to say the least and I truly feel for everyone and all the other business owners out there. We had all our events planned out for the spring and we were also planning our anniversary party! April would have marked 2 years for us in Chinatown and 8 years in Yaletown. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t celebrate it, but I know the good days are ahead of us.
RG: Obviously, this event has presented us with a lot of challenges we need to work around. At least for us, we’ve shifted our focus towards creating more digital content for our audience at home. Restaurants sit in a pretty unique place where they’re still selling something essential. The need for food and take-out spots hasn’t gone away. If anything, it’s grown more popular with social distancing being the new norm. How has it been recently pivoting to take-out only? Are you learning anything new about adaptation?
KT: I was really happy to know that we can still serve our communities, even on a limited scale. Takeout has always been the model for Yaletown but for Chinatown it has definitely been more of a challenge. The area has been getting worse because of all the closures that end up deterring people from getting takeout. It’s very difficult to replicate the DD MAU experience at home, not only in terms of the emotional aspect, but also in the quality of the product. In addition to offering delivery, sustainable packaging and diverse menu options are key. Our friends Apāto Rekōdo also help keep our Wednesday nights alive by providing playlists on SoundCloud for our regulars. We have to maintain a level of expectation for our regulars but also have to work to attract new customers through different channels. To adapt, we needed to be flexible and make hard decisions, fast. Before all of this, I could spend my time analyzing things over and over, but I’ve learned to rip that Band-Aid off quickly, so to speak.
RG: Switching gears a bit, I think it’s important for us to consider, as people looking in, the faces behind the businesses. Could you tell us a little bit about how you felt, or what was going through your mind when this situation got more serious? I know when we were forced to close, we were thinking about ways we could survive through all of this.
KT: A million things were going through my brain. Between both locations, I was worrying about our team’s safety and how to keep them employed. I was reviewing our financial situation and drafting up new projections to evaluate what it would take for us to stay open. I thought about how unprepared we were for the situation and about how I was going to get masks and sanitizers for my team and my family.
RG: I guess as a positive aspect of being at home – it’s opened a lot more time for us to reflect on the things that we’re grateful for, or even plan changes we want to make when this is all finally over. What are you taking away from your experience so far, as a business owner or even just personally?
KT: Stay humble and be thankful for what you do have. Reach out and be kind to one another because we will need each other to get through this.
RG: With the future being so uncertain – we don’t know if rules will be relaxed next month or even further into July. It’s a very strange time with kind of a lot in the air. From a restauranteur or even an owner’s perspective, what is something that people need to understand about the situation for local businesses right now? Could you clear anything up for us?
KT: Small businesses need your help to survive right now. The best thing for us to do is support each other at a distance. Order takeout and buy merch or gift cards. If you can find ways to support your favourite businesses so that 100% of the proceeds go to them, then please do so. Things will not go back to normal overnight and may not for a long time. Small businesses are still operating because they choose to, a lot of them can’t afford to.
RG: A good change we can see coming out of this situation for our local restaurants is people trying out new foods and supporting places they might not have before, especially with takeout rising in popularity. Even the restrictions – the rules that make food handling and its final exchange safer seem to be changing things for the better. Do you see any other positives coming out of this situation? Overall or just within the restaurant industry?
KT: So much positive. The local support is definitely the highlight of the pandemic for me. Seeing all of our regulars that come out to support us, the influx of messages and other restaurants banding together shows how truly connected we are, despite the distancing. It has really brought out the humbleness in people. I hope that giving back to the front-line workers, the elderly and those less fortunate will continue after the pandemic is over.
RG: Finally, what’s your favourite restaurant or go-to spot in Vancouver that people may not know about but need to try?
KT: There is a list of spots I got to for specific things. Sal y Limon for lengua (beef tongue) tacos, Livia for anything with their bread, The Mackenzie Room’s Chicken of the Sea, Savio Volpe for their Prosciutto, Stem Eatery for their seasonal menu and of course Kissa Tanto for the room. Please look them up and support them if you can. Stay happy and stay safe everyone!
RG: Thanks again Kim for taking the time to check in with us! Stay safe and take care.