The Story of Vân Vân

Why Thảo decided to build Vân Vân and how we got started.


Thảo here! In the spirit of Asian & Pacific American Heritage Month, I want to share the story of Vân Vân—why we started and how we got here.

In January 2022, my life took an unexpected turn. After months of unbearable pain and countless doctor visits, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, specifically a meningioma. While meningiomas are common in adult women, mine was unusually large and pressing on my brain. Surgery was scheduled just five days after the diagnosis. Facing this major event, especially without my family by my side, was a turning point. It made me reflect deeply on life and what I wanted to do next if I got a second chance (spoiler alert: I did). People often say life is short, but it’s hard to grasp the meaning until you face something life-threatening.


Duy's illustration of Thảo when she was recovering in the ICU

February was spent in the hospital, mostly in the recovery room and physical therapy sessions where I learned to walk again. On a sunny winter day, I went home and started planning my next steps. Before this, I had a career in marketing, but I wanted to do something different with my second chance—something that would benefit my community and the people around me.


Left: One of Ăn Xôi's popup in October 2022
Right: Ăn Xôi's popup at Hudson Wilder in Dumbo, Brooklyn

In March, I decided to restart my food popup, Ăn Xôi, which meant more time spent grocery shopping and preparing food. I quickly noticed how easily herbs go bad. Essential herbs for Vietnamese cooking—like shallots, lemongrass, and ginger—were often not fresh. Many times, I opened a bag of shallots from the store only to find half of them moldy. Peeling and mincing garlic was challenging because I couldn't stand for long periods. Most importantly, I longed for the scents and flavors of home.


Vân Vân's inaugural collection with garlic, chili peppers, lemongrass, ginger, and purple shallot

Running the popup laid the foundation for Vân Vân. I wanted to improve the cooking experience for home cooks like me by providing convenient, high-quality herbs. No more moldy shallots or stale ginger. With this goal in mind, Duy and I started our research and built Vân Vân. We worked directly with farmers in Vietnam, sourcing from regions renowned for their produce. After careful testing and close collaboration with our partners, we created our incredibly aromatic, ready-to-use, and shelf-stable herbs. Bootstrapping a business is never easy. Duy and I managed most aspects of Vân Vân ourselves, from branding and design to marketing, photography, shipping, and customer service. With the support of family and friends, we officially launched Vân Vân in August 2023.


Vân Vân at Pop Up Grocer during Winter rotation 2024

Nearly a year later, Vân Vân is available in almost 40 stores across the US. We’ve been fortunate to be featured in various publications. A portion of our sales supports our nonprofit partner, Saigon Children, helping them continue their work with Vietnamese youth through education. Most importantly, Vân Vân is enjoyed by many home cooks. Building something from the ground up is never easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding. Our goal is to continue bringing high-quality products to more people and put Vietnamese produce on the map.

Thank you for supporting Vân Vân!