Artists bank on business for life after showbiz

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 Dam Vinh Hung at his seafood restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. The pop singer entered the catering business early, investing in a noodle soup restaurant in 2009. Photo: Thien Huong
There's no show that goes on forever, and several Vietnamese artists say they are well aware of the fleeing nature of fame.
Since they typically do not earn millions that will keep them going after they retire from showbiz, they are using their time in the spotlight to start businesses that can earn them a regular income, not just as insurance against the fickle nature of their main profession, but also for the time when they have to move out of the spotlight.
"The payment for a fashion show is going down and there's not one for me every day. But the income from my restaurant is always stable," said model Trang Tran, who opened one in 2012, serving rice vermicelli with fried tofu and fermented shrimp paste.
Bún Đậu Cô Khàn the gravelly-throated lady's tofu vermicelli place is said to have started a trend for the northern dish in Ho Chi Minh City, and many restaurants were opened later by other female and models such as one by supermodel Duong Yen Ngoc, first runner-up at a national photo beauty contest in 2000.
While bún đậu is the new trend, snail shops have always been a hot spot for young people in the city; and over the last few years, they have become an extension of the showbiz industry with the establishment of many actor- and actress-branded shops.
Many people say that Chi Ba (Sister Ba) on Nguyen Trong Tuyen Street in Phu Nhuan District is the first of the celebrity snail eateries, opened by 34-year-old comedy actor Dai Nghia in 2009.
Then came many other such establishments, frequented by customers not just for the quality of food, but the eateries' celebrity owners, like the one started by award-winning actress Le Khanh.
Truong Ngoc Anh, who was at her acting peak with several movies in the 1990s, now owns an Italian food restaurant and a wheat flour import company, besides a printing and advertising firm.
Lam Truong, a prominent pop icon of the same decade who was releasing albums until a couple of years ago, is also managing a wedding party restaurant.
Popular singer Dam Vinh Hung, who has been a coach for two consecutive seasons of The Voice Vietnam, a reality singing contest adapted from the Holland show, opened a seafood restaurant in the city last month.
Hung had actually entered the food industry earlier, in March 2009, as a partner in a ribs and noodle soup restaurant in the city, which displays many of his photos and plays mostly his music. He also cooperated in the launching of a national baby porridge chain a month later, owning a 30 percent stake in the business.
Some artists have invested in more signature businesses.
My Tam, Vietnam's Best Asian Singer 2012 from the Mnet Asian Music Awards, also the country's first nominee for the annual MTV EuropeMusic Awards this November, was the first star to launch a perfume and shower gel brand My Time, in 2003.
In 2012, she launched her first fashion collection under the Nightingale brand. All her designs are on show at a building she owns on Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, which also hosts a café and a tea room upstairs.
Action movie star Johnny Tri Nguyen has a martial arts school while actress and former tourism ambassador Ly Nha Ky, who usually makes headlines for jewelry and outfits that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, trades in diamonds and high-end fashion.
The artists' shops bring over not only their fans, but many colleagues in the industry as well, which is good for business.
Trang Tran said artists running a business also receive special media attention, which helps spread the word about them.
"But the advantages come with a challenge. Artists need to do better than a normal investor, and take care not to let their customers down. Doing so would be a disaster."
The model also said that artists' typical temperament does not allow them to be good with financial matters, so she has her younger sister help manage the restaurant.
The farther the fall
Flamboyant rock singer Siu Black, famous as a star and a judge on reality shows, shocked many fans and colleagues on coming clean last month that she was bankrupt.
Siu, who achieved stardom with her raspy voice that can hit really high notes, said she owed more than VND2.5 billion (US$118,600) because her coffee shop had suffered huge losses.
Rumors spread rapidly that she'd been gambling and her friend, singer Phuong Thanh, came to her defense, saying she had only gambled a bit as she was depressed about her family problems.
The singer, who belongs to the Ba Na ethnic minority, said she had mortgaged her house back home in the Central Highlands and borrowed more than VND1 billion from family and friends to open the shop in Ho Chi Minh City.
But the shop was not doing good business, and she herself had been receiving fewer performance invitations of late, forcing her to borrow from loan sharks to pay bank interest. It had reached a point she could not handle any more, she said.
Last year, well known director, producer and actor Luu Phuoc Sang found himself in a worse situation when he was officially accused of failing to return debts of VND5 billion (some $240,000) to another producer.
Sang then said he had invested a lot of money in the real estate market and its frozen state had brought about his downfall.
His debtor said recently that he has not been fully paid yet.
Alluding to the travails of her bankrupt friend, Phuong Thanh said: "Artists are only good at singing.
"Having to be a breadwinner only creates misery for them; it stops them from flying."

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