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KOTO OFFERS “INSPIRATIONAL” FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Posted: Wed 24 Oct 2012 | Mike Smith


Leading Asian specialist Helen Wong’s Tours believes it has the right recipe when including Hanoi’s KOTO restaurant in its Vietnam group tour programs. Standing for “Know One, Teach One”, this special eatery, which serves traditional Vietnam dishes, reflects a belief that if you're in a position where you can help someone less fortunate, then you should help them.

“And the greatest thanks you can receive is to one day see that person be in a position to do the same for someone else,” said founder Jimmy Pham, a Vietnamese-Australian who, in the 1990s, returned to his birthplace Vietnam to work as a tour leader before opening the restaurant in Hanoi.

“KOTO staff is lucky enough to experience this everyday as we see trainees grow from timid, shy teenagers into young adults who are not only sought-after hospitality professionals, but also well-rounded, responsible community minded citizens ready to embrace the challenges that lie ahead,” he said.

“Experiencing this growth is thanks enough for our hard work. I knew the youth needed skills and jobs to earn a living to have a better life and from this KOTO was born.”

KOTO, which recently added a new training centre and restaurant - KOTO Saigon - in Ho Chi Minh City, has been a highlight for many on Helen Wong’s Tours group tours, including the 12-day Glimpse of Vietnam, priced from $3260 per person, twin share, and the 14-day Halong to Mekong, from $3690pp, twin share.

Kevin Du, marketing manager of Helen Wong’s Tours, said it was a good move to include KOTO in our itineraries as the story behind its creation was an inspirational one.

“Furthermore, it’s worthwhile for us to contribute to the cause – and the food is exceptional,” he said.

While in Hanoi in his early days as a guide, Pham struck up a friendship with a group of young people living and working on the streets to support their families.

He used his salary to help the children but knew this was only a temporary fix for a long-term problem. Pham wanted to find a way to contribute to improving their lives without handing out charity.

“The street kids needed skills, jobs and an income for a better life,” he said. “It was from this knowledge that the concept of our organisation was born.”

Pham left his job in the tourism industry and opened a sandwich shop to provide jobs for the young people. He admits that in the early days he thought everyone knew how to make sandwiches, milkshakes and fruit juices. He was wrong.

Pham soon realised that the children needed more than just a job. They needed proper training to ensure the success of the business and secure a better future for them and their families.

With the help of Australian chef Tracey Lister, and a $70,000AUD loan from his family, our first restaurant was opened. The KOTO restaurant was later followed by a training centre . . . and the rest is history.

Details: Helen Wong’s Tours, phone (02) 9267 7833 or visit www.helenwongstours.com