Sexy Cafes: "Starbucks meets Hooters"

In Southern California's "Little Saigon," Vietnamese coffee shops are busily developing the next generation of caffeine delivery. Part cafe, part Victoria's secret fashion show, they are doing great business, despite the recession.

Tina Nguyen, a waitress at one establishment, describes the cafe's motif as "Starbucks meets Hooters."

This seems fairly accurate: like Starbucks, the cafes have a narrow menu of coffee, iced tea, and smoothies. Moreover, while it is hard to characterize rich, creamy Vietnamese coffee as a health food, the absence of quesadillas, burgers, and other high-calorie Hooters specialties definitely places the institutions in the context of Starbucks' comparatively health-conscious clientele.
On the other hand, the marriage of food and bodacious pulchritude is something of a Hooters specialty. Like the famous chain, the servers at Garden Grove's Vietnamese coffee shops are clothed, albeit scantily. In fact, the parade of fishnets, spandex, bathing suits and sarongs makes Hooters' minishorts and tank top uniform appear comparatively restrained.

With an ever-growing population of health-conscious, caffeine-guzzling hipsters lugging their laptops from home to cafe, the business plan of these coffee shops seems incredibly smart. Still, chances are that they won't be spreading far beyond their California roots.

A large part of their popularity lies with cultural identification: Garden Grove has a strong Vietnamese community that has been in place for more than 30 years. While many people in the area may turn up their noses at the cafes, there is a general social acceptance that might not translate to a larger market.

Moreover, given recent events, it seems like the world might not be ready for the combination of lattes and tatas. Maine's Grandview Topless Coffee Shop, which garnered national attention when it opened just over three months ago, burned down early Wednesday morning. Arson is suspected.

Grandview, which offered little more than coffee and doughnuts, employed both male and female topless employees. While the restaurant inspired protests, it also had a steady, healthy clientele, and had to turn away job 140 applicants for 10 waitressing slots that primarily paid in tips.

The ever-growing stream of workers commuting to laptops instead of offices suggests that cafes are going to have a major growth spurt in the near future. The question, however, is whether fruit turnovers, lattes and free wi-fi will be enough to get customers in the door. With Vietnamese coffee houses paving the way, it seems like the next generation of cafes may give Starbucks a run for their money!
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