Tam Le MBA ’13 grew up in a world where generations, business, and cultures overlapped in restaurant kitchens. But, it was a five-month Cultivate Small Business program at Babson that really helped him break new ground.
Le’s father, Thanh Le, emigrated from Vietnam in 1981 and opened a restaurant called Pho Hoa in Dorchester in 1992. From the get go, Tam was raised in the restaurant industry, and picked up a thing or two about how to run a business.
Like a true entrepreneur, he spotted ways to improve and grow his family’s restaurant. “I had been owner/operator/manager for about 10 years,” said Le. “Coming from a family business, I had an informal business education, but I knew there had to be better ways to do things.”
Step One: An MBA
He turned to Babson, hoping to learn the skills and mindset needed to improve his family’s restaurant business. “The feeling I got from Babson was one of inclusivity and a strong sense of community,” he said. Le’s first step was an MBA.
Le made close friends who have been with him throughout his business journey. “We share this connection that is more than just friendship,” he says. “We love to talk about business.”
Le emerged from the MBA program ready to seize opportunities. “I bought a then-struggling restaurant unit from my parents, and turned it around.”
Le’s new restaurant, Pho Linh in Quincy, MA allowed him to implement what he had learned. “I identified bottlenecks and improved efficiency, product quality, and consistency.”
Step Two: Cultivate Small Business
Six years later, Le returned to Babson for the Cultivate Small Business program. “I had started Reign Drink Lab two years prior.” Le said. “It started out as a fun project amongst good friends, and turned into a serious opportunity.”
Then there were the added benefits.
“The value I saw for the participants was incredible—the program was taught by Babson professors, and included a grant when I finished. I was like, wait—you mean you’re going to teach me, and you’re going to pay me for learning? I was looking for the catch,” said Le.
Cultivate Small Business, a partnership between Santander Bank, Babson College, Commonwealth Kitchen, and ICIC was designed specifically for early stage food entrepreneurs.
Reign Drink Lab originated out of an unoccupied and underutilized space in the restaurant. “Taking from what I learned at Babson, I thought, how do I take this revenue stream and generate new revenue?”
This spark eventually became Reign Drink Lab, a coffee shop that churns out brewed and blended drinks made from real ingredients, free from any powders or fillers.
“It started as an idea that if we have more transparency with our beverages, people will buy more,” said Le. He was encouraged by the steady foot traffic from a neighboring restaurant. “Customers would come from the restaurant next door—they would literally walk over for our coffee.”
As Le looks to grow Reign Drink Lab, he continuously taps into his wealth of business knowledge and experience. “We’re focusing on solidifying our first unit so that we can scale it—we are looking for our next location to be the flagship,” said Le.
Le has plans to open a new restaurant this November and has signed a lease where he plans to open another new restaurant in January, 2021. As he reflects on his journey, Le is thoughtful, mindful, and focused.
“While our purpose is to preserve and promote our Vietnamese heritage, creating 12 jobs through Reign Drink Lab has given me a sense of fulfillment,” he said. “My parents created tremendous opportunities for me and my brothers, and it would be only fitting to pay it forward and create opportunities for others.”
Posted in Entrepreneurship of All Kinds