When Jim Rose left home in Millhouses to go travelling in the Far East with his girlfriend Melissa, he was so enamoured with the flavours and culture of Vietnam that he decided to bring a little of the nation back to Sheffield.
And Năm Sông, on Glossop Road in Broomhill, is the result - with a name that translates as ‘five rivers’, in a nod to Sheffield’s quintent of waterways, the cafe specialises in Vietnamese coffee, using beans grown there and roasted in Carbrook.
There’s a message, too. The outside and interior is painted a dazzling orange to raise awareness of Agent Orange, a chemical weapon dropped - devastatingly - on the jungle during the Vietnam War, and 10 per cent of takings are going to Vietnamese and British charities.
Jim, aged 23, said that, just over a month in, the cafe has been ‘going really well’. “We had a lot of faith in it but we didn’t think how much other people would take to it. Most people have never seen this type of coffee before.”
Jim is a former pupil at Silverdale School - after leaving in 2011, he went to Loughborough University to study business, economics and finance.
He returned in 2014, saving up money from jobs in pubs and at outsourcing firm Capita, before heading off on a five-and-a-half month trip round South East Asia with Melissa in 2015.
The couple tried some traditional coffee on their first day in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh city.
“The Vietnamese traditionally drink really strong coffee - it’ll wake you up, it’s really bold. Whereas we have milk and sugar in our coffee, they put sweetened condensed milk in it. Originally they did it because when it was a developing country, not everyone had fridges.”
The product lends the drink an unusual, caramel-like flavour; even Melissa, not a coffee fan, ‘loved it’.
Jim added: “I thought, if someone who doesn’t like coffee really likes this, maybe we could sell it over here.”
He kept mulling over the idea when they returned.
“We thought about how much we missed Vietnam - the cities, the things we did and the food and drink. We wanted to cling on to it and bring a little bit of it back to Sheffield.”
Jim secured a job at Marmaduke’s cafe on Norfolk Row in the city centre, where he learned to create speciality coffee.
He got the keys to Năm Sông in December, with Business Sheffield offering help to access a start-up loan - the prominent Glossop Road unit, previously the Crispy Duck Cafe, had been empty for two years.
Frazer Habershon, of Frazer’s Coffee Roasters in Carbook, sourced high-grade Vietnamese coffee, while head chef Alex Tickle owns part of the venture.
Authentic expertise came from Zong Tang, of the Rob Royd Farm Shop in Barnsley, who showed Alex how to create classic Vietnamese dishes such as Pho noodle soup and bánh mì baguettes with a host of fillings.
The Vietnamese coffee, meanwhile, possesses ‘a bit of theatre’ - a thin filter sits on top of the cup, dripping coffee on top of the condensed milk. Inside, the cafe has a room with standard tables and chairs, and another where customers can lounge on cushions.
Jim has ‘big dreams’ for Năm Sông, which include opening more branches and setting up a dedicated charity. The place isn’t yet open in the evening, but prices are set to match Costa across the road.
He and Melissa - who’s also 23 and juggles a recruitment job with weekends in the cafe - were mostly unaware of Agent Orange before learning of its effects in Asia.
“Further down the line it’s caused genetic mutations. It was really quite shocking to learn that this was going on.”