Ho Chi Minh City is well known for its ever changing appearance. In the blink of an eye buildings are constructed, facades rebranded, and businesses converted. It is hard to remember that Nguyen Hue was once a busy thoroughfare before it was pedestrianised. Even harder to remember the names of all the backpacker bars that once lined Bui Vien. It can be almost impossible to recall all of the purposes a particular building has served in just a small number of years.
Considering all of this, it is often surprising to hear that a business is celebrating an anniversary. Making it to the one-year mark is a remarkable achievement in the face of rapid development, intense competition and constantly changing trends. Making it to 5 years is almost unheard of, and the level of effort it takes to reach a decade of success in Saigon is simply too much for many to sustain. But for Shri Restaurant and Lounge, the 10-year milestone is in sight.
Located at the rooftop of the Centec Tower on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, Shri has certainly been well placed to witness the myriad of changes that have occurred in the city over the last decade.
Being one of Saigon’s first rooftop bar, you would imagine it must have been frustrating to watch more and more high-rises spring up across the city, stealing Shri’s thunder as they began to offer similar rooftop vistas. Some of them from even higher heights.
You’d imagine that the rapid increase in the number of bars offering cocktails and extensive wine lists must also have been a cause for concern for the staff at Shri, their unique selling points suddenly seeming not so unique. But speaking to General Manager Thomas Gillgren, it seems that the answer to both of these suggestions is “not at all”.
Standing Still is Going Backwards
“To me, complacency is a word that doesn’t exist”, Thomas says, and knowing a little of his background, it’s easy to believe that he means it. Thomas has spent most of his adult life working in the food and beverage industry but he is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. Having started his career in Sweden, he has travelled all over the world following his passion for the industry and more often than not being involved in trailblazing, and often award-winning restaurants, bars and beach clubs.
The last couple of years for Thomas have been spent at Shri where, along with his excellent team, he has focussed on building the venue’s reputation for being a sophisticated destination. Shri not only provides spectacular views of downtown Saigon from their rooftop bar, but serves an extensive wine list and some of the best international cuisine the city has to offer. With these goals achieved, Thomas is keen to discuss what he has planned for this landmark year.
“We actually started working on the concept last year”, Thomas explains. “Our tenth anniversary will be about launching Shri for the next decade and we will be showing what we can do”. He goes on to explain that although the celebration will not actually take placeuntil the endof this year, the team is already working on a ‘mini festival’ style event. The celebration will place the exceptional variety of food and drinks that customers at Shri Restaurant and Lounge have come to expect, alongside a selection of music, art, interior design, and entertainment.
More Than A Restaurant
“Our concept is to develop Shri into ‘more than a restaurant’”, Thomas continues.
“ I truly believe that food and drink and music and arts all go together, so I wouldn’t say that we are moving in a different direction. I’d say we are adding to the experience that we give to people. I want people to be able to come and enjoy a meal on the terrace and then move inside for a DJ event or some comedy. “
With a wealth of experience to draw on, Thomas is keen to avoid the traps that he has, undoubtedly, seen others step into. “After a long time, a venue can become old and tired. People focus on just being ‘a jazz club’ or ‘a rock club’, but people get bored. I don’t want that, I want people to be excited about coming to Shri, whether it's for a nice bottle of wine or some live entertainment. I want us to be one of the top venues that people go to for events in Saigon”.
It seems that Thomas and the Shri team are already well on the way to building Thomas’ vision. As we speak, preparations for the night’s special event continued around us. Thomas prides himself on being able to use a space creatively, to ensure that ambience and atmosphere are an integral part of any event at Shri and it looks like that tonight’s event will be no different.
“We’re collaborating with Follow the White Rabbit for a DJ event”, he explains whilst showing me to a private room that has been decorated specifically for the evening. “The guys are over the moon with what we have created …”
“ No-one else is doing this kind of event in Saigon, where venues are multipurpose and try to help artists deliver their concepts. What we want is to provide a creative space for diverse audiences and a diverse range of artists. This is the idea of being more than a restaurant. ”
What the People Want
With this, and other previous events such as The Library, Qua Te Ke, and a variety of stand-up comedy performances already building a loyal following at Shri, it seems that the people of Saigon are also thirsty for Shri to become ‘more than a restaurant’.
Indeed, Thomas’ collaborators are certainly keen to do more events at the venue. “Thomas is a very creative and dedicated man”, says Axel Riffaud, co-organiser of Flow Space, which brings international House, Disco, and Deep House DJs to Saigon. “The events have been fantastic and the team at Shri help us to create an atmosphere and bring things together. If there is a party for the 10th year anniversary, I won’t miss it!”
The sentiment is echoed by Luis Fernandez, organiser of the Spanish inspired Qua Te Ke events. “It is a pleasure to work with Thomas. Our events have been successful in letting people enjoy themselves and have a good time. Having a place like Shri makes the city a better place”.
After talking so much about the upcoming events, which also promise to include an event for ‘cinephiles’, more stand up comedy, and all manner of celebrations to tie in with international events, Thomas barely has time to mention that the anniversary year will also feature a new menu, and a refurb of the main lounge space so that it can be flexible for even more live events.
When I suggest it sounds like it’s going to be a busy year, Thomas looks unconcerned.
“We put a lot of effort into Shri”, he says proudly, “If you don’t, you lose it. Especially in a fast-growing city like Saigon”. With such enthusiasm and passion, there will be no doubt that Shri’s transition into becoming ‘more than a restaurant’ will be a resounding success. I am also convinced that before the celebrations of this landmark anniversary are over, Thomas and his team will already be looking ahead to the next one.