Two George Foreman grills, a run-of-the-mill coffeemaker, and just $99 in the bank—that’s all Quynh Trinh had when she opened her sliver of a sandwich shop, We Suki Suki, in East Atlanta Village in 2012. “I went all in,” says Trinh, who goes by Q. It was the latest in a series of careers that included brand manager for Tiger Beer, sales rep, and model. But banh mi, she decided, was her calling, and her customers agreed: She sold out of the sandwiches on the first day she opened. “I was the cashier, the dishwasher, the cook, the accountant—everything,” she says.
The crowds kept coming, encouraging her to stay open at night. Instead the relentlessly entrepreneurial mother of two booked a pop-up, Chop Chop Next, to serve fusion tacos on Fridays and Saturdays from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. The arrangement worked so well, Q figured she could get even more mileage out of her 450 square feet. “I’m paying rent 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she says. “If I’m not here, why not get somebody else to help pay?”
Today five vendors rotate through her kitchen during the week. Some, like Tatsky’s Frozen Blended Fruit and Pyropop (spicy popcorn), develop their products during off hours. Others, like South by Southeast and Chop Chop Next, serve when Q closes down. Then in September, just before her 47th birthday, she knocked down part of a wall inside the restaurant, expanding into the 1,440-square-foot space next door (formerly home to Urban Cannibals) to make room for even more pop-ups and food stalls. Dubbed We Suki Suki: A Global Grub Collective, the food court packs in vendors serving biscuits, cakes, and ravioli—from stalls as small as 25 square feet.
With ambitions to turn Flat Shoals Avenue into East Atlanta’s answer to Buford Highway, Q has not only sought foods otherwise missing in the village, but has also partnered with first-time owners. So while award-winning chefs in Ponce City Market might know the game, Q’s vendors are new to navigating the labyrinth of permitting, margins, and contracts. Her advice? Operate with a lean business model and minimal overhead. “I help them develop their business plan and focus on the one product that they’re going to own,” she says. “This is about mentoring, and they’ve seen that I know how to do business.”
Before the early September opening, Q, with machine-gun-like urgency, rattled off her other projects in the works: a cookbook, her own line of pâté, and a community-owned food truck that she plans to drive around the country. “Like the movie Chef! Don’t you love it?” she says. “This is the kind of life that I wanted to live. I never want to stop.”
from the Global Grub collective
Photographs by Heidi Geldhauser
This article originally appeared in our December 2015 issue under the headline “Avenue Q.”