Vietnamese star sauces

illustration by Mark Stivers

Could Hollywood’s next favorite Vietnamese sauce be made right in Sacramento’s backyard? It’s possible.

The weekend before the MTV Movie & TV Awards aired, Enve Truong was hustling to get his sauces into the hands of actors, rappers and social media influencers. With dozens of bottles and a banner with the Việt Kiều Sauce Co. logo acting as a backdrop for celebrity photo-ops, he headed to Santa Monica for the award show’s swag giveaway event.

The most exciting celebrity sighting? Fresh Off the Boat star Hudson Yang. Truong snagged a photo with the 14-year-old actor holding two of the three sauces Việt Kiều produces.

Truong grew up in Stockton after his family fled Vietnam during the war. With five or six other families, they escaped by boat, rescued by a ship heading to Hong Kong. The name Việt Kiều, meaning “Vietnamese living abroad,” is a tribute to those who left the same way.

On a Monday morning at Việt Kiều’s Rancho Cordova headquarters, Truong spoke with ease about the direction of the business—recounting the successful and the stressful events with good humor. He and his wife Mary, a full-time nurse, do everything from the production and bottling of sauces to the marketing and networking, with help from family. Their sauces—a spicy ginger sauce, a Vietnamese dipping sauce and a lemongrass marinade—are handmade with fresh, locally sourced ingredients and use high-quality fish sauce from the world’s fish-sauce capital, the Vietnamese island Phú Quoc.

Truong has settled into living the dream of running a business, but this time last year, he was scared. He’d just left a lucrative career as a pharmacist, and they’d just started a family with the birth of their daughter the previous fall.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he said. “A lot of people were saying I was crazy.”

Before becoming a pharmacist, Truong said, he was tempted for several years to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. He considered opening an independent specialty pharmacy, but Mary suggested something close to their family’s heart: food.

“I cook a lot at home … my wife and I are sort of foodies,” he said. “I grew up learning how to cook from my mom.”

When Truong and his four siblings were in college, his mother, Gai Nguyen, lured them back to their Stockton home with large meals featuring their favorite dishes. The memory has become central to Việt Kiều’s story. An illustration of his mother as a young woman is the company’s logo. She passed away 14 years ago.

The Việt Kiều website has step-by-step video recipes, so even those new to cooking Vietnamese food can make a delicious dish for dinner. It’s his hope that his sauce will bring people together.

“To have all the families sit down and enjoy a meal together,” he said. “That’s the thing we want people to enjoy because that brings back our memories of warm, loving family.