YÊU: The Couples Behind Vietnam’s Bars and Kitchens feat. MAD Society


Hoon Sung and So Yeon Kim pictured at one of their co-owned venues, MAD Society.

Every now and then I like to take a break from being a cynical booze-sodden nihilist and examine the chirpier side of human nature. The part of us that isn’t fretting maniacally about how many dongs are left in the wallet or conspiring to reduce the only inhabitable planet in the known universe to a smouldering irradiated wasteland – y’know, the icky, sticky gooey romantic part.

Whimsy, wonder, butterflies in the stomach – all that love shit, I fucking adore it and while for most of the places I’ve worked at, people were more likely to bludgeon one another to death with a keyboard than get married, I’d heard that romance in the workplace is a big thing, especially when food and drinks are involved. Maybe it’s all that watching someone pour their passion into something so intimate as a meal or a lovingly crafted cocktail that gets folks all flustered in the F&B industry, but whatever it is – we spoke to those for whom that was a daily reality rather than a half-sober theoretical scenario.

Hoon Sung and So Yeon Kim pictured at one of their co-owned venues, MAD Society.

Hoon Sung & So Yeon Kim

“We met through a mutual friend – I should never have befriended that guy!” So Yeon Kim chuckles as her husband Hoon Sung blushes. The Korean couple have left an indelible mark on Hanoi’s upper-market booze scene with both of their alcohol-centric ventures blossoming into fine inns of indulgence. You may know Sung from The Mad Botanist – Hanoi’s gin bar that boasts a mind-melting array of gins perfect for any bright sunny Monday morning.

“I was working in Dubai at the time and a friend set me up on a blind date – he’d lied to this poor guy I was going to meet, saying that I’d be returning to South Korea soon and that was when I met Hoon.” Kim blushes a little as they recount the tale of how the two became one.

“Then later on, we ended up meeting again – this is after So had actually come back to Korea and wasn’t working in Dubai, but this time one of my friends said he’d set me up on a double date with some interns, so obviously I had a very different expectation of what was to come, but instead So was there!” Soon explained that some form of fate had drawn them back together. “It turned out that she was actually interning at the same company as me while she finished her MBA.”

Hoon Sung and So Yeon Kim pictured at one of their co-owned venues, MAD Society. couples in the bars and kitchens

What followed led to them eventually moving here to sunny (and stormy) Hanoi in 2015 where they immediately set about building their eccentrically detailed empire. “Our backgrounds are quite similar in terms of work, we share of a lot of related ideas and we talk about work a lot.”

Kim explains the issues that they face that people not working with their significant others don’t. “There are two faces to sharing – you can be candid and open when you trust your partner completely, but sometimes it’s all you end up talking about – especially if there’s a crisis! Sometimes, I see his face and I think about all the problems at work we need to fix!

“In our case we have seven stores now, so we share the load – I focus on MAD Society, while he focuses on The Mad Botanist, so it’s much better this way.”

Despite the all-consuming maw of work, Sung and Kim seem well settled into the grooves of their life together and watching them bounce off one another playfully as they tell their tale, the pressures of owning so many high quality establishments seems a long way off. “It’s not a problem working together. Sometimes, as an owner, we need to eat here a lot – whether it’s entertaining friends or just for business – but So loves cooking and sometimes, she tells me ‘I really want to cook tonight’ but I’ll have an event here to attend, so we end up back here again, but to be honest – here is more comfortable.”

Hoon Sung and So Yeon Kim pictured at one of their co-owned venues, MAD Society. couples in the bars and kitchens hot table photography yeu series

© HOT TABLE. Photography by Mi Nguyen.

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