Hanoi’s Social Enterprises, Part I

As I was told by the General Manager of Craft Link, Ms. Tran Tuyet Lan, not-for-profit organizations have to sell quality products in order to survive. Charity isn’t sustainable.

But Hanoi’s Hoa Sua School and Craft Link try. The customer gets quality food and handicrafts, respectively, in addition to the warm fuzzy feeling from contributing to a good social cause. It’s an ideal – and apparently sustainable – combination.

Hoa Sua School

Hoa Sua School runs five cafes and restaurants in Hanoi and Sapa. Students work in the network of cafes and restaurants to get on-the-job experience and profits go to training underprivileged youth in the hospitality industry. We continued to patronize Hoa Sua School establishments not to continually pad our karma, but because of the value – food, service, price – that places like Cafe Smile, Le Croissant and Baguette and Chocolat offered.

Smile Cafe's Staff - Hanoi, Vietnam
Smile Cafe Staff, Hanoi

Cam Thi Hinh, a waitress at Smile Café, told me that students normally study for two years, including table service, bakery operations, and European and Asian cooking. Students work in the cafes during their second year of study, alternating between work and classes. At the conclusion, their hands-on training makes them attractive job candidates. Most of the 2000 students go on to work in restaurants and hotels throughout Vietnam.

You can support the Hoa Sua School by eating at one of their cafes or restaurants:

Smile Cafe

A restaurant in the Hoa Sua School portfolio, located right near Hanoi’s Temple of Literature (5 Van Mieu Street). In addition to its tasty food and Vietnamese coffee, the staff at Smile Cafe were some of the friendliest we’ve met. To boot, the restaurant also provides free wi-fi.

Le Croissant

This bakery serves up almond croissants and pains au chocolats that melt in your mouth and might just give some bakeries west of the Rhine a run for their money. This place earned an early slot in our morning routine. Located at 35 Quang Trung Street, Hanoi.

Pastries - Hanoi, Vietnam
Le Croissant Bakery – Hanoi

Baguette and Chocolat (Hanoi)

The Hanoi branch of this cafe is located on busy Cha Ca Street in Hanoi’s old town. It offers a pleasant atmosphere in which to escape the honking motorbikes and commotion outside and offers decent hot sandwiches and quiches.

Baguette and Chocolat (Sapa)

The Sapa outpost also includes a small hotel with four rooms. We didn’t stay here, but became regulars at the cafe, taking advantage of their fireplace after a long day of trekking through Sapa’s hills. The macaroni and cheese bake is perfect for a winter meal escape from Vietnamese fare. The hot ginger and lemon tea also makes for a pleasant end to a chilly day in the hills. The restaurant also sells pack lunches for day treks. We wish we had known about that beforehand. Perhaps we could have avoided the food poisoning our group of four picked up on our trek.

We didn’t make it to the Hoa Sua training restaurant (28A Ha Hoi), but all the reviews raved about their food and service. We’ll give it a try next time we’re in Hanoi.

More information on Hoa Sua School.

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