After Dallas coffee shop Toasted was outed on Yelp for improperly making its Vietnamese coffee, restaurant owner Bob Sinnott said in a Dallas Morning News interview on April 23 that he “will explore changing it.”
The issue was brought to light after Vietnamese-American woman Melody Vo wrote in a Yelp review in mid-April 2021 that Toasted’s Vietnamese coffee is made by blending cold brew and condensed milk. She says traditional Vietnamese coffee, or cà phê sua dá, is made by pouring brewed coffee through a phin — which she describes as “kind of like a French press” — into a cup that has condensed milk in it.
“You put ice in it, and it’s this beautiful bold, rich drink,” she says.
Vo’s correction on Yelp, which she further explained when she initiated an Instagram direct message with Toasted, has resulted in threats against her, a slurry of negative Yelp reviews for Toasted, and news stories about the incident. CultureMap reported on it first.
Vo has since downgraded her two-star Yelp response to a one-star review. A disclaimer on Toasted’s Yelp page says the company “is being monitored by Yelp’s Support team.”
Vo said in a Dallas Morning News interview on April 22 that she “was just deeply concerned they were advertising cold brew and condensed milk as Vietnamese coffee.”
“One, it’s cultural appropriation. And two, it’s capitaliz[ing] on what they consider to be trendy,” she says. “It’s almost like they’re slapping us onto a menu item to make it sound exotic and to capitalize on it.
“And then do it wrong — [to] whitewash it.”
Vo was inspired to speak out because Asian Americans have faced increasing racism and hate crimes over the past year in the United States. In a Dallas Morning News story from mid-March 2021, following the killing of six Asian woman at a spa in Atlanta, several representatives in the Asian community in Texas say they feel more unsafe than ever. Susan Philips, president of the Asian Chamber of Texas in Dallas, described a feeling that “we don’t belong here.”
Vo shared screenshots of her Instagram DM conversation on social media, an effort she believed would shine a light on how Vietnamese coffee was being misrepresented at Toasted. She also thought there was an opportunity for education.
“I reached out to Toasted because I was like, ‘OK, maybe I’m being unfair.’ Maybe they don’t know what Vietnamese coffee is. If you don’t grow up drinking it, how do you know what it is?” she says in the DMN interview.
In screenshots of the Instagram exchange, the Toasted representative said Vo’s comments were “disingenuous” and demanded she take her Yelp review down.
Sinnott tells the Dallas Morning News the person messaging with Vo was a “young, female employee,” not him.
“I think that if Melody was really genuine and wanted to help us with her Vietnamese coffee, she would not have started with a negative Yelp review and then said, ‘Buy from this company,’” Sinnott says. (In the Instagram DMs, Vo suggested that if Toasted wanted to sell traditional Vietnamese coffee, they should buy beans from a New York roaster named Nguyen Coffee Supply that sells Vietnamese robusta beans.)
“It does seem disingenuous to me,” Sinnott says.
Under the names Bob S. and Major S., two one-star Yelp reviews were posted to Nguyen Coffee Supply’s Yelp page. Sinnott blamed those on “our Instagrammer and her friend,” and they have since been deleted. Vo says she is not involved with Nguyen Coffee Supply and she mentioned it in the Instagram DM as “an awesome roaster” if Sinnott and his team at Toasted wanted to buy Vietnamese robusta coffee beans.
Sinnott says Toasted’s recipe for Vietnamese coffee was created by a coffee consultant when the restaurant opened on Lowest Greenville some five years ago.
“That recipe has been there since we opened. This is actually the very first time I’ve heard a complaint,” Sinnott says. “We’d had an onslaught of people telling us, ‘Please don’t change it.’ But, we will explore changing it. We’ll explore putting in parenthesis after the title of what is in it; and we’ll explore changing the name.”
He says “maybe it needs to be called something else. Or maybe we need to change the way we do it.”
Vo says her concerns were heard by the Dallas community. But she cried by phone when explaining how she feels now.
“I am scared,” she says. “But I’m going to be strong about it. If I’m scared, others will be too scared to speak up as well.”