Java with a Vietnamese Twist

Local restaurant veteran Duc Huynh is setting his sights on craft coffee.

Duc Huynh serves up his famous craft coffee.
Photo by Rachel Adams

“Jack of all trades, master of none.” That’s how Duc Huynh of the Vietnamese Vinh Xuong Bakeries describes himself. But we’d have to disagree with the latter half of that statement. Manager of the Alameda bakery location, co-manager of the Zeppelin Station spot, hobbyist photographer, graphic art major, and now owner of a craft coffee shop at Zeppelin Station, Huynh is actually master of quite a few things.

He’d never planned to make food his career. After working as a child in his parents’ original bakery, he was ready to leave it behind for college. Even when his parents asked him to help them open a second bakery, he planned to work there only a short time. But eight years later, he can’t imagine doing anything else. “I’ve learned a lot, met a lot of great people, and I love the culture,” he says.

More important, he has that culinary gene: It was Huynh’s idea to make the Alameda bakery’s focus banh mi sandwiches, which it’s now famous for. “We bake up to 1,200 loaves of bread a day,” Huynh adds.

For his latest act, at Dandy Lion Coffee, he’s turned his talents to traditional and new coffee drinks, served with a Vietnamese twist. “Coffee is my passion project,” he says. “I love the idea that you could be the first person someone sees in the morning.”

Vietnamese iced coffee is his most popular drink. “In the U.S., it’s usually a mixture of chicory coffee and sweetened, condensed milk,” he explains. “The traditional way it’s served at Vietnamese restaurants is with a Phin Filter. The coffee slowly drips through the filter into a cup of condensed milk and, when it’s done, you pour it over ice. It’s sweet and you can sip it all day.”

The story behind the shop name is pretty sweet too. “I had this punny tattoo idea for a dandy lion—a fancy lion,” Huynh says. “It just came together for the shop.”

When Huynh’s not talking roasts at Dandy Lion, he’s checking things at the family’s new Zeppelin Station location, which he manages with his sister, Yen. “My sister and I want to be able to take care of our parents,” he says. “They work 12- to 14-hour days, 365 days a year. We want to create something more from what they’ve made so they can spend their time playing with the grandkids.”