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The trend in café chains such as HighLand or Trung Nguyen is to have consistent branding and décor experiences but M2C cafés, owned by former model Minh Anh and her team, connects the past with the present by using  one-of-a-kind décor in every location.

For Vietnamese expats who used to live and work in Saigon prior to 1975, memories of Ben Thanh Market, Grand Market, Tortoise Lake and Saigon Notre Dame Basilica are deeply imprinted. However, as life goes on, old buildings are razed and futuristic projects replace them. Fragments of memory for many who visit Saigon these days are found in old dirt sites behind caution ribbons saying “To be demolished.”

In two ID cafés (a separate brand  within the M2C café chain), images of Saigon’s golden age are revived and can be seen on the leafy Tu Xuong Road or in an old building on Thu Khoa Huan Street. In these French colonial constructions, things seem as if they have always been there. Minh Anh’s team, which includes a number of graduates specializing in architecture and art design, have transformed these vintage spaces into  nostalgic reminders of the past. The first café is nestled in a small villa deep in an alley off Tu Xuong Road. Strolling past rows of big trees to the café slows life down and shuts out the noisy sirens that have characterized Saigon’s hectic urban life. Pushing open a bulky wooden gate, visitors enter a little courtyard filled with chirping birds and lanterns. Inside there are new sophisticated arrangements of seats without a trace of the old French style. The most notable surprise, though, is the decades-old, flower-patterned clay tiles underfoot, evidence of golden days long gone.

The other ID café is in an old residential villa on Thu Khoa Huan Street at the heart of District 1. Three generations lived in this house and they retained every artifact of those decades. The villa has high and distinctively narrow wooden windows, and bronze electric fans, old cameras, radios and black-and-white TVs that were once symbols of affluence are scattered throughout. Most fantastic is the balcony overlooking the vibrant street below. Here guests can contemplate, watch traffic or simply recall their tumultuous youth and lost dreams.

While the two ID cafés are about nostalgia and installment art, the other three M2C cafés are offer architectural and design highlights. All the furniture, tables, seats and dishes and even the coasters are totally different. Minh Anh explains, “Each location of M2C is a world apart targeted at the young. Wherever you travel within the M2C chain, you will see something novel and different. It is for the creativity and curiosity of the young.” A brilliant concept from  a former model who is making café business more than a short-lived game.