When a Vietnamese family came together to open a doughnut shop last September, they were catering to what they thought Americans wanted.
After all, who doesn't want doughnuts?
Lots of people did, but after about five months in business, they realized that even more Americans were looking for healthier, ethnic foods. And that's what spelled the end for Donut House Espresso & More at 3211 Manatee Ave. W.
What comes in its place is the family's authentic Vietnamese food, which they say "comes from the soul."
"These recipes have been in my family for more than 30 years and come not only from the soul of our hearts, but the blood, too," said Mai Ngo, who runs the newly rebranded Little Saigon Cafe with Van Le, her husband.
The couple's son, Kevin Le, also helps run the shop. He explained that his mom and dad found success in doughnuts, but they're Vietnamese dishes are more relatable.
"Doughnuts are an American thing," Kevin Le said. "They're not something we're passionate about and too familiar with. We feel like making Vietnamese food is what we're about. This is everyday eating for us."
At the beginning of the year, they quietly slipped traditional Vietnamese dishes into the menu, and the popularity caught them off guard. Their banh mi sandwiches quickly found favor among customers and requests for Vietnamese pho soup were nonstop.
That's when Le and Ngo stepped back for a moment and decided to go Vietnamese full time. In the process, they had to drop their doughnuts to make time for everything else. Everything from the banh mi bread to the fresh fruit smoothies is made fresh in-house.
The most laborious task is the restaurant's homemade pho soup, according to Ngo. The beef broth has to cook overnight and the fat has to be removed from the pot. It's a process that forces the family to keep their shop closed on Mondays as they prepare for the week.
"We weren't open Monday but I was here until 9:30 p.m. getting the shop ready," Le said.
Ngo and Van were both raised in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where they lived in the same apartment building. After marrying, they moved to Dallas in the 1990s.
The couple moved from Dallas in 2016 and they say they didn't stumble into Bradenton by accident. They did research in advance to find out where there was a "shortage" of handmade fresh doughnuts. It turns out there's a shortage of Vietnamese restaurants in Bradenton, too, which they said helped make their decision to transition much easier.
While doughnuts are gone from Little Saigon Cafe (and likely aren't coming back), the shop still offers breakfast, coffees and pastries in addition to its lunch menu. Other traditional Vietnamese bites include vermicelli bowls, rice plates and spring rolls. Lunch items range from $4.99 for a Banh Mi to $10.99 for vermicelli with and egg roll on the side.
Drinks are another specialty at the restaurant, which serves boba tea, smoothies and all sorts of coffee.
Ngo said she wants her cafe to be a place where people feel comfortable coming in to chat with her or her husband for a while, even if it's just a quick bite. That's how restaurants operate in her hometown and she says it's part of creating an experience that's true to her culture.
"That's how Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is and we want to bring that here," Ngo said.
Little Saigon Cafe is open from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.