When I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I asked my friend Anh-Minh Do: “Who are the three people I should meet in my first week in Vietnam?”
He was quick to introduce Laure Chevallier and Tuan Le, the duo team behind the design studio The Lab Saigon and the cafe concepts WORK Saigon and WORK Cafe.
I had the chance to sit down and chat with Laure to learn about her journey to Vietnam and her personal story of bringing WORK Saigon, now a favorite for many creatives and freelancers in Ho Chi Minh City, to reality. While WORK Saigon has now moved onto a new retail concept called Label, it remains a favorite memory for many in the city.
We’re excited to share what Laure is up to and what’s baking next for her team. See why she left the urban life of Paris and the skyscrapers of Dubai for an entrepreneurial path in Vietnam.
The WORK concept began when I was working in Dubai at advertising agency TBWA\RAAD. We wanted to create a place that is inspiring and productive. We thought offices were too boring. Cafes were too distracting. And there wasn’t much in between.
Ho Chi Minh City felt like the perfect place for it. A growing economy with mobile workforces and creative entrepreneurs. Tuan is Vietnamese so it was a natural first destination to consider this project. The reverse migration of overseas Vietnamese working with ambitious local Vietnamese is a trend I am beginning to see more in Vietnam. We’re excited and inspired to be part of this community.
What kind of people go to WORK?
Each of our three WORK locations serves a different purpose. As such, each one attracts a different clientele.
WORK Saigon, with its coworking and cafeteria space, sees a lot of startup enthusiasts and digital nomads. It’s approximately 60% foreigners and 40% locals. The environment is homey and cozy. It’s ideal for the road warrior, lonely expat, or local that wants to get work done in a quiet, relaxing environment.
At WORK Cafe in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, we see a different balance. The design is meant to be more urban and high-end. The location in Bitexco Tower attracts many office professionals. As a result, our customer base is 80% locals and 20% foreigners. The cafes focus on coffee and baked goods. We also have a larger audience of companies organizing workshops and events.
What sets WORK Saigon apart from the competition?
First, each place has a design that matches and reinforces its concept. We’ve put a lot of thinking into each space. We focus on understated and timeless luxury.
Second, we take great pride in our team effort and culture. I believe experience can be taught, but passion cannot. That’s what I look for when hiring. We have an amazing team of passionate people right now that have helped us move forward.
What are your greatest challenges for growing the WORK brand?
I’m not a big fan of replication. My greatest fear is getting bored of a brand that we are so proud of. I would say the same for our most loyal customers. We want to continue inspiring them. The greatest challenge for WORK is not getting old. We aim to always reinvent ourselves and expand beyond a simple coffee shop.
What’s next for WORK?
We just finished building a bakery. We’ve been working on our new pastries for over five months now. And we’re finally ready to launch. We plan to sell our pastries online and to distribute them to businesses in town. Along with this we have decided to rebrand WORK. It’s a nice fresh start.
The word WORK no longer represents everything we have to offer. We’ve evolved the branding to something that can stand for a collection of coworking, cafe, pastry, and… hospitality concepts.
What are your favorite cafes in Ho Chi Minh City?
WORK of course.
I also like Bosgaurus Coffee. They’re probably the best in town when it comes to specialty coffee, though I mostly go there because of the design. Honestly though I spend my whole week in a coffee shop already. I like to buy coffee from places like Shin and make my own weekend cup of coffee at home.
Where can a guy take you on a date in Ho Chi Minh City?
Nothing too planned or fancy. I’d say anywhere with good food or good coffee.
What was your best date experience so far then?
The French don’t have concept of a “date.” We just go out for a coffee or a drink. If I had to pick a specific memorable experience, it was a trip I took to Bangkok. We visited a place called Vanilla Cafe. Lots of cool stuff, the design, and menu items.
Otherwise breakfast at home is nice and relaxing too.
What are your favorite travel destinations? Where do you want to go next?
After that, I would like to go to Hong Kong. It’s nearby and the photos I see of urban life are inspiring. There seems to be a lot of spaces and places to go discover. What I look for in my travels is to be able to bring back an idea or product that is inspiring.
5 nice-to-knows about Laure and WORK?
I had no idea what I was doing when I first started WORK.
We met our first would-be employee during dinner. She was our waitress at the restaurant. Her name was Diamond and she became a beloved member of our team.
I lived in Dubai for two years and in South America for six months.
Before I moved to Dubai to start my career, I had two options. I could either work in advertising in Dubai or work in marketing in Ho Chi Minh City. I turned down the opportunity in Ho Chi Minh City to work in Dubai, where I met Tuan. Two years later, we were on a plane to Ho Chi Minh City.
The CEO of AIA Life Insurance approached us on Facebook to design what was to be Nest. We didn’t answer him initially. We thought it was spam. It turned out to be one of our most rewarding partnerships.
Who should I talk to next?
Bosgaurus Coffee. They are true coffee culture enthusiasts and have brought their knowledge to Ho Chi Minh City. Next, I would speak with ArtisanSmith. He brings incredible spirit. The founder believes in giving back to his customers after they make a purchase. He often shares his knowledge and techniques. Their goods are all handcrafted. They also own a bunch of different brands, it’s never the same coffee shop twice.