Meegan Nguyen was devastated when her bosses, Eddo and Clara Kim, told her they would be closing its exclusive Korean winery Queens on Ninth Avenue. It was just her weekend job, she’s a full-time graphic designer, but it was an inspiration, the kind of place she wanted to open one day. She told her partner Linh Dan Le, a videographer she met while studying at San Francisco State University, and the two pitched her idea to Queens homeowners: the open book project.
Now, the old Queens space is back in action. The duo is running a menu of Vietnamese American coffee drinks and snacks and, yes, a lot of books. The front counter has been transformed into a coffee bar with full pour and phin equipment, plus pastries from the little candy’swhich is run by friends of Nguyen and Le, and jane the bakery. Wine, like Sammay Negre and Rosso Ranco Matto, are now for sale alongside a friend’s artwork and a lending library of community-sourced books, magazines and DVDs. The pop-up will run until November, when Nguyen and Le plan to return to Vietnam for a month’s travel. “This space has a certain enticing energy,” says Nguyen. “I never would have imagined that Queens would shut down, so this opportunity presented itself.”
The creation of the menu, written in the style of a script, happened slowly and then all at once, tweaking over the years the items they expected to serve in their own cafe one day before accelerating when Queens announced its closure at the end of May. Nguyen and Le sent versions of the pandan cold brew to friends to try, adding garlic-roasted peanuts and blueberry polenta cake. canned fish, a main trend in the world of food, it’s also very Vietnamese, the two say. egg coffee she’s on her way once the recipe is dialed in, but in the meantime, Le is particularly proud of her phin technique. Serve-up coffee comes courtesy of a Vietnamese micro-roaster Sey from Brooklyn, but the phin coffee is robust, one of the main exports of Vietnam to wink at its country of origin.
Wines from around the world are also available by the glass. Shortcut, the Queens takeout branch, is still operational in the back of the takeout space. In fact, one of the cooks prepared sangria for the couple and put her fish tacos up for sale. They’re considering it for their menu, and it’s fitting, given the highly collaborative nature of their project thus far. “These recipes don’t come out of nowhere,” says Le. “Our friends are part of this space.”
The couple wants their company to redistribute the fortune they feel they have found in their San Francisco communities. They’d like to host events, like a Women’s World Cup viewing party, though they laugh talking about the odds of their home country team winning against the United States. They want to develop a better system for bringing books in (currently, a bright red box outside doubles as a drop-off hub) and sharing them outside of the store. And on Tuesdays they operated at a pay what you want scale. “It could be what encourages someone to try a weird store like ours,” says Le. “We want to survive, but we also want people to relax and not have to worry.”
When the two met at SFSU nearly five years ago, Le was studying film and Nguyen was taking design classes. They bonded over their shared Vietnamese American culture and their love of theory and art. Nguyen began working in Queens in December 2022, gathering ideas for a space that she could one day run in Vietnam with Le. The Queens homeowners are still helping, as they have allowed the Open Book Project to share the space and avoid high start-up costs. Since neither Le nor Nguyen have been bartenders or baristas, they are giving it their all to keep up. “It’s a roller coaster, man,” says Nguyen.
open book project (1235 9th Avenue) is open Thursday through Monday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.