Green Bay entrepreneur goes from dreamer to doer, bringing Bambu Vietnamese drink shop to area

Green Bay entrepreneur goes from dreamer to doer, bringing Bambu Vietnamese drink shop to area

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt
 |  For Green Bay Press Gazette

A new franchise that promises “a family drink like no other” is headed to Green Bay, and its owner couldn’t be more excited. Danny Thao of Green Bay left a job he loved to pursue the dream of business ownership.

“About seven or eight years ago, I was visiting my sister in Philadelphia and she introduced me to Bambu, a Vietnamese drink shop,” Thao said. “When I first looked at the menu, I was fascinated by the ingredients, and when I tasted some of the drinks, I thought they were fantastic.”

The experience stayed with him, and as he worked as a business operations manager and analyst, he continued to plan for a future day when he would leave the corporate world.

“Fast forward to present times,” Thao said. “I was in the process of wanting to start my own business and my fiancé, Nadine, reminded me of this franchise. I give her all the credit for pointing me in this direction.”

About a year and a half ago, he took action and submitted an application. He was approved, and after receiving the franchise disclosure agreement, decided to move ahead. Even though he understood he would be taking a risk by leaving his job, he was sold on Bambu.

His store will be the fourth location in Wisconsin, but nationwide, there are more than 70 shops in 22 states and Canada. It has grown since 2008 when four Vietnamese sisters opened the first shop in San Jose, California. Their unique menu of Vietnamese coffees, boba milk teas, Che dessert drinks, real fruit smoothies, and exotic juices has been a hit.

In bringing these cultural beverages to Green Bay, Thao is offering an option in the midst of what is arguably the largest concentration of coffee/ beverage shops in the area. His space is under construction at West Gate Village; within a block of Caribou Coffee, Scooters, Starbucks, and Bhava Coffee.

But Thao is convinced that none of those are similar to Bambu. He is offering a taste of the Vietnamese culture.

He said, “I will be educating a lot of customers. This business will be very different to the area. The Vietnamese drinks are very fresh; everything is made in-house every morning. Water is extracted from coconut, we have our own espresso beans, all the ingredients are homemade and vegan, and we use jellies.”

A benefit of going with a franchise, he said, is that he has received assistance in putting together a business plan for lenders and has been able to talk to other franchise owners to get a clearer idea of what to expect. The owners he talked to were all enthusiastic about the franchise and the success they have had.

As Thao moves forward, he is hoping for that same outcome.

“The scariest thing is that I’m investing a lot of my life’s savings into this and can’t be completely certain of whether or not it will work,” he said. “Also, I resigned from a good job to pursue this. But I wanted to start something I felt would be meaningful. You always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Already there have been challenges. Thao said the space he leased has required more work than anticipated. Basically, he has had to demolish the interior and will need new plumbing and electrical before equipment can be installed. The franchise will help with the interior design, but allows franchisees flexibility.

“We are going for a modern and cozy interior that caters to all generations where people can come in, work there, do homework, or just relax,” he added.

As he works to get the business open before Mother’s Day, he says that he has come to the conclusion that opening a shop takes more time than anticipated and costs about 30% more. His advice to others starting a business is to add that amount to the projected costs.

He is learning more about finance and budgeting by taking courses offered by the Small Business Development Center (part of the SBA and a partner of SCORE). The classes are one of the resources recommended by the organizations he credits for assisting him — the Military Avenue Business Association, Greater Green Bay Chamber and the city of Green Bay.

“If it weren’t for those groups, I wouldn’t be where I am,” he said.

He will also look to them as he begins to market and promote. The franchise will do some advertising, especially to publicize the opening, but Thao has bigger plans.

“I had a hobby business selling T-shirts when I was younger,” he said. “I learned that you have to be on top of everything all of the time and that marketing goes a long way in that process. I didn’t advertise that business much at all; I learned that you can have the greatest product, but if you don’t know how to market and advertise, it can still be a flop. The converse is also true.”

Plans include banners, flyers, farmers markets, special events, videos, and a strong social media presence. What he doesn’t know how to do, he eventually plans to hire someone for. He recognizes that he can’t be everything.

Thao says that his strengths are his leadership skills, ambition, desire, and drive. He considers his weakness to be the lack of experience in running a business, but that is one of the benefits of buying a franchise. Not only has he had help writing a business plan and from other franchisees, he will also have in-store trainers come in before opening. Once opened, he has the goal of being the most successful Asian dessert place in the region. After that, he would like to have other locations. He is ready for the challenge and shares what he has learned.

“Do your research, do your homework, don’t be a dreamer for too long or you will just be a dreamer. Take risks, but make sure they are calculated risks.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.