Le Vo, the founder of Ba Le, was in his 20’s and living in Saigon when he decided to sell banh mi sandwiches at his drink stand during the French colonization of Vietnam in the 1950s. When he first arrived in the city from the southern countryside, he found wood and simply built a stand that served as a place of business. Vo’s curiosity and passion about food led him to pursue more than just sell drinks; he began to make his own pasta noodles in hopes of discovering a distinct craft and skill he could specialize in, but came to find he understood and loved baking bread, marinating meat, and pickling vegetables more than he ever would noodles. He learned how to bake baguettes from the French themselves, and experimented with different flavor profiles by preparing his own meat and vegetables. The timing, proportion, and chemistry of banh mi’s individual elements made sense to him. After years of recipe, business, and production development, Vo closed up shop in 1972 to come to the America.
Vo carried his experience with him to the United States. Many other Vietnamese immigrants from around the country turned to Vo for food and business management advice. At this point, he was already fluent in his passion and shared it with those around him. He taught people how to utilize their resources to recreate a piece of Vietnamese culture in a foreign land. He helped people recognize their own capabilities when it came to skills they grew up with and relied on to get them through adaption to a new culture. He facilitated the growth of Vietnamese businesses and communities throughout the country. In 1982, he opened the very first Ba Le bakery in San Jose, California. With the success he had in the west, Vo saw much opportunity to expand to other cities. In 1988, he opened a second Ba Le in the great city Chicago which now serves as the franchise's headquarters.
It has been over 40 years since Vo’s arrival in the United States and today, Ba Le's legacy has been passed on to his youngest daughter Thuy. As the new heir to her father's creation, Thuy has taken it upon herself to honor the traditional and name that her father proudly originated. The Ba Le name is often imitated but can never be duplicated. In case you're wondering what its meaning is, it's quite simple really. 'Ba' translated means 'father' or 'papa' in the Vietnamese language and 'Le' being Vo's first name. So the next time you stop by one of our locations for an original banh mi sandwich, let us know that 'Papa' Le sent you!