The Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli has become a Lower Manhattan cultural institution. My intention was to capture daily moments and motions that happen in the deli. Sam Yip, the owner and manager, has run the deli for over fifteen years and works seven days a week to serve his customers.“Everyday: Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli” attempts to reflect on the small moments and dedication that Sam gives as well as what carving out a space means.
A boy bolts ahead into the deli, pulling his father along.
Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich Deli, located on 369 Broome Street, has been in business for twenty-two years. Sam Yip has been running it for the last fifteen years. He acquired after his cousin needed help, although Sam had no experience with the restaurant business.
It’s lunchtime. Several customers wait patiently for their orders. Sam’s niece, Emily Yip, twenty-two, juggles taking orders, calling out numbers for pickup, and brewing coffee for the customers. The House Special #1 is the most popular menu item, along with Vietnamese coffee.
A kitchen staff member mops the kitchen floor. To make the bánh mis, many employees take different roles in the kitchen, from slicing deli meat to pickling carrots. Some kitchen staff members are elderly, and some wish to retire by the next lease renewal.
The main counter is stacked with Café du Monde coffee cans, Nguyen Gourmet Blend boxes, and other Vietnamese food items. Aside from selling bánh mis, the deli sells the grounds for their Vietnamese coffee recipe as well as homemade items including shrimp spring rolls, pork rolls, and black sticky-rice desserts.
Holiday cards, photos, a Chinese flag, and a kitchen cap hang on the wall with other memorabilia.
Customers relax outside the deli. Located between Mott and Elizabeth Street, the deli shares the same street address as the two adjacent stores, the New York Tailor Shop and Kabab Bites. During peak season, in the summer, customers will stand outside the store to wait for their orders.
A man sits outside on the deli patio with a medium hot Vietnamese coffee in hand. The coffee is a dark roast of two types of blends, and condensed milk is added for sweetness.
Sam Yip, fifty-six, the manager of the deli, sits quietly and reads the paper. Although Sam doesn’t usually read the paper, he picked it up because someone had left it in the deli. Working at the deli for the past fifteen years, seven days a week, Sam wishes to visit Vietnam someday. He hasn’t been back since 1978.