As a young entrepreneur and creative chef, Annie Nguyen has a passion for sharing her heritage through Vietnamese street food and wholesome vegan eats. After almost two years in Adelaide’s food business scene, Annie has established two efficacious pop-up food vendors – Insta Streat and Insta Salad – and is well on her way to perfecting the ultimate recipe to success.
We caught up with Annie to talk about the delicious and diverse menus, her life as an entrepreneur, and where we can spot Insta Streat and Insta Salad in the near future.
Can you tell us a little bit about Insta Streat and Insta Salad and how these ideas were formed?
I love food and I have a very sensitive taste of flavours and spices, so eventually I found myself cooking to create the taste that I desire. I have learnt about ingredients, cooking techniques and kitchen skills. I usually cooked for my family events and dreamed that one day I can become a chef. About two years ago, I was working full time at a logistic company but my work there didn’t match my soul. When I found out the Adelaide City Council opened applications for mobile food vending program, I thought, why don’t I apply my business plan for a mobile food cart and see what happens? My application was for Insta Salad with the slogan ‘healthy food, wealthy mood’, and focused on supporting a healthy lifestyle at affordable prices. I felt over the moon when my business plan was chosen and I was given a mobile food vending permit. It gave me confidence to quit my full time job and start my adventure into the art of cooking.
Insta Streat was born eight months after when I saw the trend of Asian fusion and street food starting to arise. It’s considered as a new division to expand my business’s market and target customers. While Insta Salad focuses on healthy food and vegan cuisine, Insta Streat is more about Asian street eat that I’ve been collecting and experiencing in many of my trips around Asia.
How did you come up with the theme 'Insta'?
Insta is short for instant: we provide quick and express meals on the go or at festivals.
How have your businesses developed over the past two years?
Slow and steady. It’s a journey of self-developing. I set goals and priorities for each stage of my business, from small to big, from low to high. I’m always aware of my abilities—what I can do, what I can’t do, what my weakness is, what skills I need to improve… I don’t want to see my business growing too fast when I’m not ready for the next step and fail. Over the past two years I’ve successfully established a business network for Insta Streat and Insta Salad over the past year. We’ve been involved in many public and private events around Adelaide, from local markets to festivals, from a backyard birthday party to a fundraising campaign. We also have loyal customers who know us and come to the events because of us. I have survived the first tough years with my babies and we’re all doing well!
Your menu presents traditional Vietnamese street food, but you also have a strong vegan focus. Can you tell us a little more about this side of your menu?
I’m personally a fan of environmental veganism. It’s really hard to give up my temptation for seafood and cheese but I’m totally against animal cruelty and ignorant attitude towards our environment. I’ve been doing part-time vegan for years. I want to show people that vegan is not boring, a poor choice, unhealthy or expensive. I choose to tell my stories through food, simply that.
What are your top three favourite dishes from your menu?
My menu is customised to suit to the theme of different events but my favourites of all time are:
- steamed pork or vegan bun (so soft and fluffy)
- (homemade) vegan dumpling soup
- banana sticky rice in rich coconut milk
You recently occupied the Producer In Residence Stall at the Adelaide Central Market alongside Mai Kitchen. How did you find this two-week opportunity?
It was such an honour for me to bring Insta Streat to the Producer In Residence Stall at the Adelaide Central Market. Nghiep (Dan), my team mate and also the owner of Mai Kitchen, had been encouraging and helping me to take this chance. I’ve met many lovely customers and stall holders at the Central Market, listened to their feedback, and talked to them about my love for food. They are my inspiration to keep following my dream.
Can you tell us a bit about your collaboration with Mai Kitchen?
Since I started my food business with almost zero experience in hospitality, I’ve been applying to work at many restaurants around Adelaide in different positions (from kitchen hand to chef, to waitress to floor manager). I worked as a bartender at Mai Kitchen for a few months and quickly became friends with Dan as we’re in same generation and share passion in food and cooking. Then we decided to team up and do some amazing works together and come up with some new projects which bring benefit to both of our businesses.
Dan has spoken about a catering business involving Insta Streat and Mai Kitchen. Can you tell us about your goals for this?
It’s the next step of both Mai Kitchen and my business to reach more customers. If customers can’t come to the restaurant for any reason or can’t make their way to festivals/events, we’ll try to bring our food to their table. Our goals are to bring the Asian street food to a next level: more artistic, creative and delicate.
We’ve spotted Insta Streat at various events and festivals around Adelaide, including the recent OzAsia festival. How important do you think these events are for gaining exposure and building relationships with the community?
I started up as a mobile food vendor and I really like the atmosphere of festivals and community events. I never forget how we get loved and supported by the community. These events indeed are very important to my business to spread our names to the world and foresee how the market is changing.
What’s next on the calendar for you in terms of festivals/events?
We’ve planned to run a monthly event – Vegan Club at Mai Kitchen starts on Thursday 20th October with an exquisite vegan tapas menu which combines the art of street food with healthy eating and veganism. Seats are limited and I’ll bring the best of my cooking. Insta Streat will be at the Adelaide Night Market on 30th October and Insta Salad is coming to the Vegan Festival on 5th-6th November.
What is the most challenging thing about being a business owner? How do you manage it?
Even though I prefer to call myself a creative chef instead of a business person, I have to face to the fact that I’m running a business. The most difficult thing for me is accepting that I’m not able to do everything myself. As my mobile food business is very small and still in its early stage, I had to put my hands on everything from prepping, cooking to marketing, book keeping, from staff training to managing feedback from customer… I used to burn myself out in the first six months with only three-four hours of sleep and long working hours every day. I didn’t have time for my personal life. Then I decided to stop and take a short break to look back what I had been doing and figure out what I could do better. I’ve learned to trust my staff and hand over some major jobs to them. I had to explain my passion to my employees, try to inspire them and make them believe in my business principles: quality is our priority, paying attention to absolutely every detail, and embracing differences. I’ve also learned to ask for help from friends and family instead of being entirely independent. I got to know how to spend money on services such as marketing or accounting even though I know how to do it (I have bachelor degree in commerce and marketing). I’ve been seeking advice from other business owners and mentors.
There’s still a long way for me to learn and improve myself as a business owner, that’s such a challenging and also interesting journey. I’m thankful for my family, friends, staff and business partners that have supported me in doing what I love.
What are your ultimate goals for your businesses? Do you think you will eventually be opening up a permanent stall/restaurant?
Beside my big love for food, I’m also a wanderluster. I love the way I’m working now: I have my freedom and flexibility to travel and learn more about different food and cultures around the world, then come back home, pour my heart into creating extraordinary dishes. Insta Streat is where I share my travelling stories with customers through food. They always find something new and different at my stall. I’m very open to opportunities for collaboration, working with other young entrepreneurs and I always get excited to be involved in new projects. I let the future hold the “yes” or “no” answer about opening up a permanent stall/restaurant.
Header via Insta Streat's Facebook Page.