Story and Photos by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
Simply Boba, at 2600 Grand Island Blvd., is meant to be a place for people to visit, enjoy bubble tea and a selection of Vietnamese street foods, and to create a community for people of all ages, said owner Vinh Nguyen.
On June 22, Nguyen held a grand-opening for the café, which he called “a boba tea shop that offers some food, not a restaurant that sells bubble tea.”
“For me, it was just trying to fill a niche that Grand Island was missing, and that was a place where young kids and high school kids and middle schoolers and other folks could come,” Nguyen said. “It’s a little café, where people could spend time with their friends. Community is a big part of our vision. People walk into a small-town café; people know each other and can say hello to each other. I just think it’s important for people to come together in that kind of way. Part of my vision is just to get a place where people can be reminded of what it means to live simply.
“Anyone should walk through our doors and have a sense of belonging.”
Nguyen noted his two main goals for creating a successful business are building community and nurturing passionate employees.
“Passion is something that I value in all my workers,” he said. “I believe that, if you’re passionate about something, you’ll work hard to maintain the quality.
“Community is just about bringing people together of all backgrounds and differences and political bents. Just come together and enjoy company with friends.”
Vinh and Michele Nguyen with one of their two daughters.
He said, with the menu he designed, his goal was to create a bridge between cultures.
“I have the playfulness of our bubble tea,” Nguyen explained. “We have the tapioca pearls or the bursting bobas that come up through the straws. That’s a playful thing. It’s sold on the streets of Taiwan. And we have the comfort foods of Vietnam. We have Vietnamese bánh mi. We have a few signature ones that I custom make in house, and others are just the regular ones that you get anywhere else.
“What makes the bánh mi is the bread. Bánh mi is the Vietnamese word for bread. The French introduced it to Vietnam, and the Vietnamese perfected this bread. It has a crispy, flaky outside, and a very airy, soft inside. Every bánh mi really comes with the same toppings. You have pickled carrots and daikon, a couple slices of jalapeños, cilantro, a couple slices of cucumber, mayonnaise and a liver pate. Then we have our different meats that you can put on there.
“We have egg rolls. I call them Ba Liens. Ba is a common term of engagement with an older person. It literally translates to Lady Lien. Ba is Lady, and Lien is (my grandmother’s) name. It’s like Miss Lien’s egg rolls. I named them after my grandmother because I’ve had a lot of Vietnamese egg rolls in different restaurants, and I think my grandmother’s are the best. She never gave me the recipe, so I worked hard to get it as close as possible. She approves of them. The Ba Lien egg rolls are very popular.
“Then we have our spring rolls, which have our lemongrass marinated pork inside of them. They have chives, lettuce, a glass noodle. They’re wrapped in rice paper. They’re very popular. They’re like a salad inside of a roll. You dip it into our housemade fish sauce. A lot of people like that.”
People can enjoy their beverages and food at tables or in comfort seating or at computer desks, Nguyen said. “We have computer desks with charging stations. If you want to come and do some work, you can hop on our Wi-Fi and find a quiet place in the café to work. You can listen to our café music, or you can put your headphones on and just work.
“Families could bring their kids here, for kids to grow up with other kids here, to have a place where they can look back 10 years from now and say, ‘Remember Simply Boba, where we went and played board games and sat and hung out and had fun and laughter?’
“That’s really my vision. It’s a place for people in the town to come and unwind. I love the chatter around here. Friendship and laughter and a place to hang out. It’s good medicine. I wanted a place for young people to develop community. Even grown-ups can come and enjoy our comfort seating. Unwind a little bit.”
Nguyen said he had many people to thank for helping him turn his dream into reality, including volunteers from Cornerstone church, who “gave me endless hours of work.”
“We flipped this building in three weeks,” he said. “Several different businesspeople came in and were really encouraging. I can’t thank people enough.”
Nguyen mentioned Marty Rastelli from Pinnacle Travel, Ken Knight of Pickleball Island, and Fahim Mojawalla from the Island Ship Center as people who supported him and helped him.
“All three of those people are top-quality, top-shelf people in the community,” he said.