Thanh Lam's New Plan

The man who launched Ba-Le in Hawaii has a new bakery—and a new café coming to a location near you.

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The La Tour name strikes Lam as more fitting for the new line of healthy artisan breads. “You know how people write things on menus. I hope some day to go to a restaurant and read on the menu, La Tour bread. I want the restaurant to be proud of it.”

There’s one big additional reason for a name change: At age 51, Lam again has a plan.

He takes me down to his shiny new restaurant, La Tour Café, on the ground floor of the building, due to open this month. Except it’s not his restaurant. The partners are his sons and Weddle—“I want to tie Rodney to Ba-Le forever, family. We’re a family company now.”

Trung still has yellow Post-Its stuck up all over the new café and kitchen, things that need doing in anticipation of opening.

La Tour Café is casual, fast-serve, order at the counter, but it’s a bit more upscale and European than the Ba-Le shops. It will sell bread hot out of the oven every hour, with soups such as French onion or tomato basil, salads, tartine sandwiches, cheeses and pâtés. “Simple food, but good,” says Trung. “A place people can come and eat or maybe pick up things to make at home.”

Only two things remain as an homage to the original Ba-Le. One is the do chua, which gives flavor to the sandwiches, but pickled carrots only, no daikon. The other? “We will have espresso, but we’ll also have Vietnamese coffee. Of course,” says Lam.

Even if you don’t get down to Nimitz to the new La Tour Café, expect, like Ba-Le, one will still come to you. Lam’s plan: Five new cafés on Oahu in the next three years.

I ask his sons, you think he’ll ever slow down, retire ? “I hope he sticks around for a long time yet,” says Brandon. “He’s got the vision.”

“What would I do if I retire?” says Lam. He seems to consider the idea seriously. “I know. I would bake bread again. Rodney and I sitting at a table, all day long making bread.”

John Heckathorn has been writing award-winning restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984.

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,February

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