How to Craft a Neighborhood Legacy: The 86-Proof Story with Rochelle Nguyen

Avatar photo
Lauren Tracy

Last Updated: December 14, 2023

In life, when you come across seriously cool and creative individuals, it’s the perfect opportunity for us mere mortals to take notes. Meet Rochelle Nguyen, a spirited female entrepreneur with a dream to create and own something she could call her own. Alongside her partner Jason Pham, this power couple has ignited a fire at 86 Proof, the most litty and “Unpretentiously boujee” Whiskey and Cocktail Bar in Thao Dien, Ho Chi Minh City.

Explore Rochelle’s inspiring journey from Vancouver to Vietnam’s F&B scene at 86 Proof. Join us to sip, savor, and learn from the best. Cheers to Rochelle Nguyen and the 86 Proof Whiskey Bar legacy!

Mixing Dreams and Heritage: Rochelle’s Journey, Upbringing, and Vietnamese-Canadian Spirit

Rewind to the ’70s, Rochelle’s parents embarked on a courageous journey as “boat people,” a term used to describe countless brave Vietnamese fleeing the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Despite that hardship, Rochelle fondly recalls, “It’s funny how a group of displaced people can come together and make it work. It’s always been the Vietnamese way.

Growing up in Vancouver presented a unique perspective. She reflects, “Vancouver is a melting pot of cultures, and growing up around so many different people allowed me to identify what different cultures value most.” This multicultural upbringing instilled a deep appreciation for both worlds, an ideology that has shaped her entrepreneurship spirit. An invaluable lesson from her upbringing would later guide her in creating 86 Proof, where people from all walks of life come together to savor exquisite cocktails and the shared spirit of community.

After studying business and marketing, Rochelle’s entrepreneurial dreams began to take shape. She set her sights on the future, unaware that her journey would eventually lead her back to Vietnam. Initially returning to teach English, as many expats do, Rochelle shares, “It’s cliche to say, but I did want to explore my cultural roots, be closer to family, and just get out of my comfort zone.” She was unaware that the blossoming Vietnamese economy and abundant opportunities would inspire her to create something remarkable.

Inventing 86 Proof: The Power Couple Chronicles

Rochelle’s calculated venture into the world of 86 Proof was led by her marketing sense, allowing her to “stay connected with our market, explore novel ways to engage with clients, and make pivotal brand decisions daily.” It all began in Thao Dien, a tranquil neighborhood with just a handful of bars dotting Xuan Thuy Street. Rochelle’s partner, Jason, had already established ‘Ono Poke’ in the vicinity, and Rochelle humorously shares, “He also jokes he was fed up with having to trek to D1 for Tinder dates.

The name “86 Proof” perfectly captured the essence of their first little establishment, with a speakeasy feel. In bar lingo, Rochelle clarifies that “86 Proof” is the alcohol content or ABV of a spirit; it’s also a signal that an item is no longer available, like ’86 olives,’ aka “we’ve run out of olives.” Rochelle adds playfully, “My personal favorite stems from the Vegas days when gangsters said, ‘Drive him 80 miles out and bury him 6 feet under’.

86 proof
Playful behind the scenes with Co-Founder Jason Pham.

Overcoming Challenges: The Heart of 86 Proof

It’s not just about the drinks; “It’s the people that truly define this place.” We remember and honor Hieu, their first bar manager, whose infectious laughter still resonates through the streets of Thao Dien. His contributions remain a vital part of 86 Proof’s early success.

Our team’s creativity is the secret ingredient in every drink we serve.” At 86 Proof, it’s more than a bar; it’s a welcoming community where regulars turn into friends, and newcomers are embraced with open arms.

Mot – Hai – Ba – dzo (1, 2, 3 Cheers!)

In five incredible years, 86 Proof has achieved remarkable milestones. Rochelle shares, “Half a decade sounds like such a long time.” But the celebration doesn’t stop there. Their bar captain, Lan, won first place at the Gin Festival Cocktail Competition in 2022, and they were also voted as the ‘Best Cocktail Bar’ in the People’s Choice award on WhereInHCMC.

86 proof
86 Proof’s Bartender Lan wins 1st Place – Gin Festival Cocktail Competition in 2022

The bar has recently expanded to a “spanking-new” intimate and “loungey” rooftop area, perfect for sunset happy hours and open to private event bookings. Their Chef Series events featuring culinary talents like Nic D, Tri Phan, Curtis Demyon, and Francis Thuan have been a hit, bringing unique flavors to their menu! Don’t miss their special events, including Sunday Jazz Nights and live music with Moon Rise City on Wednesday for their Ladies Nights event with 20% off on cocktails for him & her.

86 proof
86 Proof’s New Upstairs Rooftop Lounge
86 Proof
Moon Rise City – Resident Live Music Duo at 86 Proof

A Sip of Wisdom

Rochelle’s journey offers valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs. She advises, “Sometimes you must take your head out of your ass and listen more than you talk. There is so much information out there in this day and age. There shouldn’t be a day that goes past where you don’t learn something new. Also, ensure you understand trends and concepts that work in your home country first. Vietnam draws cultural influences from all over the world – Korean culture, Japanese culture, American culture, and the list goes on. Therefore, you will have a market for whatever you’re looking at doing. To understand how these trends and concepts work at home first.

In the wise words of Rochelle: ‘The customer is the most important visitor in a bar. They don’t need us. We need them. They are the purpose/reason. We are not doing a favor by serving them, but they are doing us a favor by allowing us to do so.

Their next exciting project, Mami Cocktails – Kitchen & Bar, is a female-driven concept celebrating amazing women, particularly Vietnamese women.

86 proof
Customers Enjoying the New Upstairs Lounge at 86 Proof.
86 proof
Customers enjoying the downstairs terrace, overlooking Xuan Thuy Street at 86 Proof

The Night Cap

For over five years, 86 Proof has been where familiar faces welcome you with a strong sense of community. The staff has grown from novices to management, and customers have come along for the ride. Co-founders Rochelle Nguyen and Jason Pham have created a unique establishment that offers world-class cocktails, creative entrepreneurship, and a strong sense of community.

Owner-operators Jason and Rochelle actively participate in the bar’s daily operations. Jason occasionally jumps behind the bar to lend a hand, mainly washing glasses. This embodies their commitment to what Jason calls his “good ol’ old-fashioned Aussie hospitality.”

86 Proof Whiskey Bar offers craft cocktails, an impressive whiskey collection, and a celebration of local spirits. Enjoy Saigon’s finest happy hour with 50% off all alcoholic beverages by the glass from 4-7 PM daily.

“Your Favorite Neighborhood whiskey & cocktail bar” awaits at 109 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Avatar photo
Lauren Tracy
Head of Content & Communications - Vietnam Is Awesome
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Lauren has been living in Vietnam for the past 8 years. Her passion for the travel industry and wealth of experience has led her to become the Head of PR & Communications at Vietnam Is Awesome.