Toronto can prepare to enjoy cà phê sữa đá in true Vietnamese fashion: bright and early — starting at 7 in the morning — throughout the opening week of quintessentially-Hanoian coffeehouse Cộng from November 25.
Cemented at 424 Bloor St. West, the store is the latest addition to Cộng’s growing list of over 70 venues globally. It will mark the chain’s fourth country on the map and first North American site, following previous international success in South Korea and Malaysia.
“Toronto is a good location because we're so diverse and multicultural,” said Diana Diep, head of marketing. “People can really embrace the uniqueness and authenticity of Cộng … I think sometimes, when you go to other cities, they may not be as receptive to something new.”
Most of the menu is adapted from Vietnam, featuring classics like bạc xỉu (white), brown and black coffee, regional specialties like dracontomelon and kumquat, along with Cộng’s bestselling line of coconut smoothies. They’ll also carry various quick bites — undoubtedly not without a selection of bánh mì.
The majority of the crew are Canadian-born Vietnamese. Their light-bulb moment dates back almost a year ago when one member had a cup of Cộng while traveling in Vietnam and just couldn't forget about it.
So, when the rest of the team heard the story, everybody, too, wanted a taste. Not long after, they started talking about bringing the flavor over to Toronto and finding a spot to realize their vision.
To operate as close as possible to their roots, all staff had undergone two weeks of training at a Cộng location in Vietnam, according to international operations manager Phuong Le — who later followed the team back to Toronto for further guidance up to opening week. She explained this is the headquarters’ standard procedure offered to all Cộng franchises globally.
Since its conception on Hanoi’s Triệu Việt Vương Street in 2007, the Cộng brand has been synonymous with the vintage and communal ambiance of Vietnam’s post-war subsidy period — with a signature palette of patriotic red and military green to match.
The Toronto team sourced most furnishings directly from Vietnam to authentically recreate the rustic, nostalgic look of the 1970s-80s that local Cộng stores are adored for. Whether big or small, no details are missed: from stripped wood furniture to antique ornaments and centerpieces, every item in the space is a tasteful testament to the past.
Stepping into the space is an experience of being seamlessly transported to a Vietnamese home. Beyond the front door, patrons are invited into a cozy living room accommodating several loveseats, dotted with black and white family photos.
Then, past the bar counter lies a dining room-style assortment of tables and chairs, surrounded by warm-lit lampshades and colorful shelves of old Vietnamese novels.
But the essence of Cộng is more than just a reminiscence of bygone days.
“The biggest thing that we want to do is education — robusta beans are not as well-known in the North American market, as well as our brewing and drink manipulation methods,” said Duc Minh Nguyen, operations manager. “So it's not just the coffee itself, but also why it’s different.”
Nguyen mentioned one area of importance in their research and development process was figuring out how to cater to the typically larger North American portion size without overdosing the drink and be able to offer a balance of both worlds — as robusta beans actually contain roughly three times more caffeine than arabica. The team’s solution: add extra layers of foam or increase the ratio of water to coffee extract.
They also got creative with a few recipes that were not possible to sustainably replicate with Canadian ingredients, namely Vietnam’s cult-favorite trà đào cam sả (peach tea with orange and cinnamon). Instead, Toronto is getting a brand new kumquat mountain tea fusing world-famous Canadian honey and locally-grown calamansi, resulting in a twist that closely resembles the original flavor profile.
While a familiar sight to a large part of the local Vietnamese community, Cộng’s arrival could prove to be revitalizing to the rest of Toronto. First, as a breath of fresh air in a market dominated by Western giants like Tim Hortons and Starbucks. Second, as a cultural symbol for modern-day Vietnam.
“Vietnam has come far from the subsidy period to a point now where we're looking back on history with fondness while trying to go towards the future,” said Nguyen.
“I think our number one selling point is that everything is made fresh in-house,” Diep adds. “At a lot of other places, you may be getting instant coffee while we're working with authentic cafe culture here.”
“We can’t wait to show Toronto what Vietnam has to offer.”