It all began with a bicycle… Or lack of one, which was what initially brought Truong under KOTO’s wing.
As the only son of elderly parents and a father who was sick, it came down to Truong to provide financial support for the family. At 16 he dropped out of education and started looking for work. At the time, however, all Truong really wanted was a bike. His mother was the one who learned about KOTO and told him he should apply.
His first reaction was disbelief. He remembers thinking, “There could be no school that paid you money to go… In fact, looking back,” he says smiling, “I even thought it might be a scam to sell me to China.” (People trafficking being all too prevalent within Vietnam). However, his mom reassured him and said that if he succeeded, he could potentially get the bike he so desired.
That was all Truong needed to hear and not long after, he entered the KOTO training restaurant for the very first time: a shy boy, lacking self-esteem, with no real knowledge of hospitality and no spoken English. All that was about to change.
Truong found the KOTO front of house training program as front of house. "The volunteers were so helpful. It was a good time, but also quite hard. I had to build a lot of confidence.” The steely determination was there and Truong excelled in his studies.
While still a trainee, he interviewed at the InterContinental Hotel and was offered a position as waiter at the restaurant there. However, as he was not yet 18, he had to wait to begin his employment.
Once at the Milan Saigon Restaurant, Truong expanded on his skills as a barista. “I love to make coffee”, he says. “My dad drank a lot, so I never used to like alcohol.” However, seeing how much the guests enjoyed wine, he was curious to learn more.
Seeing his interest, the Beverage Director at the restaurant gave Truong The Wine Book to improve his knowledge and topped it off by sending him to Saigon on a wine training course. As a result, Truong was promoted to Captain of Wine in 2011.
Since then, he has been back to KOTO – helping out when short-staffed, was involved when Pots ‘n’ Pans first opened its doors back in 2013 and has dabbled in wine sales. At the end of last year, he took up his current position of supervisor at the Halia Hanoi, an international restaurant.
Truong is now an adult. He communicates in English with confidence and ease, and demonstrates a good sense of humor. He is a dedicated professional with a fruitful career ahead of him. “KOTO is my life”, he says when asked to summarise his experience.
But the real question is, did he get the bike? And the answer is a happy and resounding: “Yes”.