Tê Tê’s Four Founders Take Us Inside Their Saigon TapHouse

Face it. We live in a conventional world. We’re pressured to look and act a certain way. But right now we’re over at the Tê Tê TapHouse. And we’re being strongly encouraged to move away from convention and getting too comfy.

Read on in Vietnamese

“Embrace the weird and wacky parts of yourself,” co-founder Tobias Briffa laughs. He’s one of the four-man team that founded the company in 2013 – Tobias, who’s from Malta, joined Spanish brothers Ruben and Luis Martinez, and American Michael Rowland. The goal back then was simple – create classic craft beer with a twist. 

Most of the team came from an ad agency called AstroPig. Fortunately, one of them – Luis – had a masters degree in Biochemistry. And a love of craft beer. In fact, the brewing and branding plan really solidified when Luis completed the quartet.

Now, the crew have opened their first taphouse, one of the best bars in Saigon in an alley at 90 Nguyen Van Thu Street. And as the pangolin-inspired brewers are a concerted Saigon favorite due to their community activism and quirky nature, we headed over to check out the new venue. There they broke down the brand for us and the concept behind the brewhouse.

The Tê Tê team [from left to right] Tobias Briffa, Michael Rowland and brothers Luis and Ruben Martinez.

1. The pangolin personifies the brand 

The pangolin personifies the brand but that’s not just with the name – Tê Tê means pangolin in Vietnamese – but look carefully at the logo and you’ll see the animal is chasing its own tail. “And its tail is holding a hop – the aromatic ingredient in beer –  attached to it,” Mike Rowland points out, helpfully. 

Pangolins are a scaly mammal most similar to an armadillo. Their population is dwindling rapidly due to poaching. And so the guys hope Tê Tê drums up awareness that will bring some peace to these harmless creatures. It was originally drawn by good friend and illustrator Javi Marimon. At this point, Mike suddenly gets philosophical looking at the logo. “It personifies the cyclical nature of the pursuit of happiness,” he murmurs. 

The experimental Tê Tê team at the new TapHouse at 90 Nguyen Van Thu, District 1.

2. Tê Tê began as a testing ground for their creative agency

“Tê Tê started as an experiment,” Ruben remembers. The project was really a chance for the team to put their creative chops to the test. And Tê Tê offered them the chance to work on their passions – for product design, branding, and marketing. 

“It was only natural for us to put all that passion and learning into the brand’s visual identity,” says Mike. The team had complete control of Tê Tê’s birth and evolution. Even though Tê Tê very quickly became its own beast. 

“It’s one thing to make a recipe and a label and a whole different story to deal with alcohol production licenses, special taxes, HR, distribution, and so on,” Ruben adds about the intricacies about setting up a craft beer brand in Vietnam. 

The TapHouse fleshes out the Tê Tê experience. 

3. How this craft beer brand opened its own brew house

At four-years-old, Tê Tê has grown into a well-loved and highly respected brand of the best craft beer that’s available city-wide – even in CircleK. But the team felt it was high time to flesh out the Tê Tê experience. 

“We needed a physical ‘face’ for Tê Tê. With the TapHouse, we could connect to our followers face-to-face for the first time (besides the pop-up events we supported in some of our favourite bars),” Tobias says. 

“Plus, we are as passionate about food as we are about beer,” Luis says on the team’s behalf. Adding a tapas menu with creative food pairings for the beer was the natural way to keep developing the brand. “Also, every drink comes with free bites!” Luis smiles.

Michael Rowland and Luis Martinez getting down to business.

Also, Tê Tê TapHouse is located at 90 Nguyen Van Thu, Da Kao. Tê Tê deliberately chose this cool and rapidly changing locale. “It’s set apart from the center of District 1, yet close enough to be convenient and accessible from other districts,” Ruben explains. Nearby is Fresh Catch, Bunker Bed & Breakfast Bar, Belgo, and the first Vintage Emporium, as well as Galerie Quynh

“The whole neighborhood is booming with other breweries and beer bars, so it’s a great place for nights out. It’s like the Soho of Saigon,” Ruben continues, “and we knew we could bring something good and make this area even more special.”

4. Inside the cozy-but-not-cramped taphouse

The TapHouse itself is situated right on the corner of the small hem at 90 Nguyen Van Thu. It opens up into an alley. And the tap house has utilized the space in front to create an inviting atmosphere for passersby making it one of the best bars in Saigon. “The neighborhood is quiet but vibrant,” Mike says looking out into the alley, “and the space feels cozy but not cramped.” You might also notice the cool uniforms designed by Ruben’s stylish wife, Leo, who gave us her city guide back in August. 

The food and drinks served at the TapHouse six days a week, 4pm to 11pm. “Every drink comes with free bites!” Luis smiles.

The lighting is perfect too – low but not too dim. “We love the vibe of our little alley because you can be yourself and interact with people like noone is watching,” Toby adds. It’s an ambience that feels almost Spanish. “This format is something the Europeans of the team have been around since we were kids,” Luis interrupts. “What better place to give a taste of foreign culture than the melting pot that is Saigon today.”

Photos by Khooa Nguyen. Edited by David Kaye.

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