Rosa Trieu, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, always loved Vietnamese cooking and it was this deep appreciation that gave her the idea to open a Vietnamese restaurant in her East Windsor community. But with zero restaurant experience, she knew it would take a leap of faith—and after five years of extensive research, rebuilding a space, and the unwavering support of her family, Rosa quit her corporate job of 20 years and opened Baguette Bistro in 2018. Today, it’s become the place to go for deep bowls of steaming pho, light and delicious spring rolls, banh mi (French baguette sandwiches), vermicelli, overflowing rice dishes with veggies and meat, and organic bubble teas. We sat down with this mom of three to talk about the deliciousness of pho, how COVID-19 has changed the way she does business for now, and the one dish from an East Windsor restaurant she craves when she’s not eating Vietnamese (hint: it’s Italian).
What inspired you to open Baguette Bistro?
I went into the restaurant business because I love Vietnamese cooking and pho, a Vietnamese specialty. My mom made it for me growing up—it’s a slow-cooked beef broth with rice noodles, beef, chicken, or shrimp, and garnished with fresh herbs and hot sauce. My family loves it too, and whenever we go on vacation, we always seek out the local pho and Vietnamese restaurants for their fresh and healthy ingredients. I wanted to introduce the cuisine to our community and thought about opening a restaurant. But at the time, I had been in the corporate world, working as a VP of Operations at a housewares company. I knew nothing about owning or operating a restaurant. So when I told my husband the idea in 2013, we spent over four years researching, and eventually found a place in the area that worked. After a year of renovating, we opened Baguette Bistro by Valentine’s day of 2018.
Tell us more about the menu and food at Baguette Bistro.
We cook fresh ingredients and marinate meats with our special sauces and recipes. Vietnamese foods are very complex and flavorful—beef noodle broth can cook up to 12 hours to extract the flavors from the meat and spices. We serve all Vietnamese foods such as pho, banh mi, and vermicelli salads. Since we’ve been open, Vietnamese food has become more popular because of the homemade ingredients and cooking methods. My husband and children can eat pho and banh mi 4-5 times a week—it’s all so good.
You had to change the way you operate your restaurant since the pandemic started. How have you done that?
We were doing well as a full-service restaurant, but then Covid-19 caused the lockdown. So for now, we’ve been operating as takeout only, and the support has been amazing. Luckily, the business has evolved with new technologies like DoorDash, UberEats, and ChowNow for ordering online and delivery. And also, my husband engineered our restaurant processes and invested in technologies to allow our kitchen to serve up healthy, flavorful meals in less than 10-15 minutes after the orders come into the kitchen. Our regular customer base orders from us, and we know with their help, we will get through this together.
You are close to your family. Do they help with the restaurant?
Yes, they have been helping me since the beginning. I am very close to my mother and share almost everything with her. She was instrumental in assisting with the menu—she created the fried egg rolls, the spring rolls, the vegetarian noodle soup, and some of our other wonderful recipes at Baguette Bistro.
All of my three children have tried the smoothies, bubble tea, and fruit tea and provide great recipe feedback. My oldest son, Alexander, who recently graduated from the NJIT mechanical engineering program, helps me the most at the restaurant —especially during quarantine when other high school students could not come to work. My daughter Jacqueline helped design the menu, fixes my Instagram photos, and posts them for me. My youngest son, Thomas, comes to help unload restaurant supplies. My husband makes weekly shopping trips for supplies and various errands we need, and he designed the space, using lanterns my sister brought back from Vietnam. Mostly, he lends an empathetic ear when something gets me down or when I am exhausted at the end of a long workday or week.
Who does your business support in your community?
We try to buy local supplies and services whenever we can. Once a week, we go to Sushi King in East Windsor—we love their sushi. It’s the only place open late at night for me to order food after work, and they support us as well. Sal’s Pizzeria Restaurant has the best pizza. We order The Works– a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, meatballs, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms—it’s a must any time we go there.
What do you love most about living in East Windsor?
East Windsor is the center of everything for us. We built our home here when it was still a farming community, and all our neighbors are friendly, small-town, charming people. We love the location, too—from here, we can get to the shore, or New York City or Philadelphia in 40 minutes. Yet, we still have farms, open space, and a 2,500-acre county park with everything.
What would you say to another NJMOMpreneur just starting?
It’s a challenge to jump from one business to another. I was in the corporate world and switched careers 360 degrees, but I took a leap of faith and went for it. If you decide to do it, you need to do a lot of research beforehand—to learn as much as you can about the business and make sure it’s what you want. You also need to consider your costs—there may be things you need and don’t know, or can’t anticipate, so you should plan on putting contingencies in place for when that happens. Most of all, you need a good support system—I am so lucky that I have my family, which has helped me with everything I do.