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Thoa Nguyen basically grew up inside Federal Boulevard New Saigon: His parents, Thai Nguyen and Ha Pham, owned and operated the now-iconic restaurant for 35 years, introducing Denver residents to traditional Vietnamese dishes such as pho, spring rolls wrapped in rice paper and bowls topped with grilled meat before selling the in 2017. But it was the French pastries, sourced from Denver shops such as the now-closed André’s Swiss Confiserie and Sweet Soiree, that captivated Nguyen. So, in 2010, when she was 20, she moved to Paris to study candy making, swapping red bean paste for vanilla pod. By the time she returned to Colorado in 2011, her parents had built a bakery and grocery store next door to New Saigon for her as a welcome gift. There, for seven years, Nguyen made Asian sandwiches and snacks, such as durian and pandan-infused desserts, that New Saigon fans craved. But a crescent-shaped hole in her heart led the 31-year-old to combine the Vietnamese traditions she grew up with and her passion (and talent) for French pastry and open Banh & Butter Bakery Cafe on East Colfax Avenue in April. “My family didn’t really know what my vision was,” says Nguyen. “Now I have mine.”
1. Nguyen’s Favorite
The boxes of French treats his parents brought home for Nguyen and his three sisters to share when they were children often included jeweled fruit.
pies. At Bánh & Butter, its Breton fruit tarts have a shortbread and cake base, which is topped with both whipped cream and pastry cream.
2. The rare pearl
Split Strawberry Croissants
Whenever Nguyen’s family traveled to Southern California, they made a pilgrimage to the Cream Pan bakery in Tustin, near Los Angeles, to buy strawberry croissants – halved and filled with fresh fruit and of diplomatic cream – per tray. Thanks to the releases Nguyen is making now, his family doesn’t have to walk to the Golden State.
3. Most Popular
Slices of pancake cake
With the spectacular visual appeal of crepe cakes, it’s no surprise that they’re the bakery’s best-selling item. But the noble beauties are a lot of work: each comprises 25 to 30 hand-poured pancakes, which are stacked with strong fillings between each layer, then carefully cut into triangles. Strawberry and Cream and Vanilla Burnt variations are still on the menu (at least until they run out), but additional, often Asian-inspired flavors like Thai Tea are making appearances.
4. Updated Classics
Vietnamese sandwiches and coffees
Nguyen uses the same Café du Monde chicory coffee his family uses at the New Saigon Bakery and Deli, which they continue to operate, for their iced coffee and a similar bread for their banh mi. “We change the level of hydration [of the baguettes] so it’s more influenced by France,” says Nguyen. “Vietnamese rolls are very soft, with a thin crust, and ours have a thicker crust with more chewiness.”