At the age of 37, Truong Thanh Hien quit a cozy accounting job to embark on an entrepreneurial journey that would lead to him sharing central Vietnam’s longstanding traditions of making traditional bologna with foodies across the country.
Bologna smoked in bamboo tubes, known locally as 'cha bo,' is arguably one of Da Nang’s most famous gastronomic specialties.
In neighboring Quang Nam Province, Hien’s hometown, 'be thui Cau Mong,' or Cau Mong roasted veal, is the local delicacy.
Both, however, are two of Hien’s favorite foods and the accountant-turned-entrepreneur hopes that putting a unique twist on each of these delights will help him captivate palates throughout Vietnam.
Hien’s entrepreneurial dreams first began while he was working as the chief accountant at a well-known company in Laos.
Looking to make a change, he pooled his savings and left his job to invest over VND2 billion (US$81,800), hire ten employees, and open a restaurant.
His business, however, did not last long and he was forced to move to Da Nang with a near-empty bank account.
Hien spent the next several years trying his hand at various businesses, including an e-commerce venture which specialized in traditional medicine and a lumber company.
Though the former was a failure, the latter took off and he was able to pocket about VND80 million ($3,300) per month in profits.
Despite his modest success, Hien felt that his work lacked meaning and began looking at ways he could both earn money and make a difference in his community.
It was by chance that, about five years ago, he made a visit to his hometown in Thang Binh District, Quang Nam Province and met local shrimp farmers who were struggling to survive amidst fluctuating harvests and unstable market prices.
Looking for ways to help these farmers, Hien began working with a beef bologna producer in Da Nang, hoping he would be able to pass on the skills he learned to the shrimp famers in his hometown so that they could make shrimp bologna.
|Truong Thanh Hien (R) and his business partners introduce bologna bamboo tubes at a startup event. Photo: T.H. / Tuoi Tre|
While experimenting with shrimp bologna recipes, Hien began facing several challenges.
First, he found that ground shrimp simply did not have the proper consistency needed to hold itself together.
He also found that it took two kilograms of fresh shrimp to get one kilogram of shrimp meat, meaning the costs of his experimentation were quickly skyrocketing.
After addressing each of these challenges, he made an attempt at mass production using machinery, to no avail.
But just as he was beginning to give up hopes, he realized he was missing a binder ingredient that would help hold his shrimp together.
Consequently, he added sausage powder to his shrimp mixture and found success.
Sticking to Vietnamese values
After meeting the criteria for taste and quality, Hien turned his attention to making his product environmentally friendly.
“In Vietnam, we have bamboo trees with unique characteristics, which gave me the idea of storing bologna in bamboo tubes. I hoped it would leave a lasting impression on our customers,” Hien said with a smile.
After settling on exactly how he would store the bologna in bamboo tubes, he set out to develop his final packing concept – a bamboo tube seal with foil at the top, bound with coconut fiber ropes and placed in baskets of woven grass.
|Truong Thanh Hien’s bologna bamboo tubes. Photo: T.H. / Tuoi Tre|
Hien currently employs 10 workers at his bologna production facility and generates an annual revenue of nearly VND3 billion ($122,700).
His product has successfully obtained quality assurance certifications and is in the process of being promoted to new markets.
Recently, an import-export company presented an opportunity to bring Hien’s bologna to the U.S..
However, in order to get his product approved for the American market, it must consist solely of pure shrimp without any other meat, bringing Hien back to the initial challenge he faced when starting his venture.
So, for Hien, it is back to the drawing board.
Hien remains determined and is redoubling his efforts to find the optimal method.
“I believe that those who choose to create products featuring authentic ingredients from [Vietnam] ultimately aim to craft goods that embody unmistakable Vietnamese values,” he said.