Klaus Rutt and his wife (R) sell sausages on the sidewalk of Phan Xich Long Street in Binh Thanh District
As if the sweltering weather of Ho Chi Minh City was not enough, the heat from the baking oven makes doubly sure that Klaus Rutt is bathed in sweat.
But he has a friendly smile and "Hello!" for everyone who approaches his sidewalk eatery. It is the smile of a man on a mission, and Rutt's zeal is evident as he hawks his native country's specialty sausages to HCMC residents.
The 45-year-old German man has been doing this for seven months now, and his enthusiasm has not waned despite several problems.
He first fell in love with a Vietnamese woman, Tran Hoang Minh Nguyet, almost 20 years ago in Germany, and when he visited her native country five years ago for the first time, he fell in love with the country as well.
"Vietnam gave me a very good and special impression at the very first meeting."
Three years later, in 2011, Linh, his oldest daughter, then 16, stood sixth in the German Mathematical Olympiad (Deutsche Mathematik-Olympiade). As a reward for her, Rutt and his wife decided to give Linh and her two younger brothers a trip to Vietnam.
During the four weeks they stayed here, the kids could not get used to Vietnamese food and refused to eat any of the "German sausages" which are produced and sold in Vietnam.
"They said that the sausage in Vietnam was nothing like to what they always ate in Germany," Nguyet recalled.
The kids' reaction pushed Rutt to taste sausages of different brands and restaurants in Vietnam. He found that his kids were right.
This also triggered strong memories of childhood, when Rutt learnt how to make sausages from his father, and the thought of selling real German sausages in Vietnam took hold.
When he spoke of it, he immediately encountered strong opposition from his wife and parents, who were agreed that it was a "crazy idea."
"Back in Germany, we were living a well-off life. I ran three restaurants and he worked for a large waste management company. Not to overstate things, but our family did not have any economic worries.
"Not only that, he is the only son who still lives near his parents as his younger brother is now in Canada. Nobody wanted him to give up such a life and move to Vietnam, especially me," said Nguyet.
The Vietnam bug had bitten Rutt though, and the dream of selling authentic German sausages in the country would not fade away, even though it would mean he would have to quit his 26-year-old job at G.A.S (Gersellschaff- Abfall - Stadtereiningung) Entsorgung, a big German firm, to become a sidewalk vendor in a new country.
His missionary zeal finally won over his wife, and she agreed to return on the condition that he has a maximum of three years to turn his dream into a success story.
In 2012, they returned to Vietnam and began a new life.
Although his wife is from Hanoi, Rutt chose Saigon as his second homeland because he loves "the sunshine, the boisterous atmosphere and the laidback nature of Saigon."
He registered a company named Leon King, based at his home on Huynh Van Banh Street, Phu Nhuan District. Leon is the name of Rutt's youngest son, the only child living with the parents, the other two studying in Germany.
But he not only wanted to make real German sausages, he also wanted to sell them like they do in Germany, out of trucks and carts on the sidewalk.
And selling on the sidewalk would garner greater word-of-mouth publicity, with more people knowing about him and his product.
With a careful preparation, it seemed to Rutt that everything would go smoothly. Just prepare the best quality product, open the doors of his house and start selling.
Rutt said that he uses most ingredients imported from German such as its outer cover (pig's intestine), six different kinds of traditional spices, the sauce as well as the salt. Only the meat (either beef or pork) is got from a reasonable source in Vietnam.
He also makes all of the company's sausages with his own hands to make sure that the food will taste exactly like a "real German sausage." Guests can be assured that sausages of Leon King contain no kinds of preservative or chemical substances, he said.
But, as they say, "the first step is always the hardest." His business did not start well. Less than two weeks after he opened, his house was broken into and he lost a bunch of furniture.
For the next two months, along with some Vietnamese assistants, he took his home-made sausages to a few street corners in Saigon, baking them on the spot.
A short time later, Rutt decided to set up an outdoor eatery at a fixed position on the sidewalk of Phan Xich Long Street in Binh Thanh District, in front of the Vietnamese American elementary school.
He said, he loves children and wants to serve them the best sausage in town.
It was not easy. More than once, he had to deal with the police as selling on the sidewalk is, strictly speaking, illegal.
The sight of a white man selling sausages on a street in Vietnam also raised a lot of eyebrows.
Netizens were divided on their feelings. Many liked it and thought it was cool, and others said, there was nothing special about him and too much fuss was being made over him. Some remarked that he must be a failure in his own country trying to make some money on Vietnam's sidewalk.
In general, though, those who met him and tasted his sausages were favorably inclined to what he was doing.
Now, more and more residents know about him. The German community here has started visiting his shop to enjoy their home specialty. And by some accounts, his company, Leon King, has become well known in Germany as well.
As they are made with imported ingredients, the prices of Leon King's sausages are higher at around VND35,000-40,000. But the number of customers has been growing steadily, and the sidewalk cart now around 200-300 sausages every day from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"The sausages here are the best ones I have ever eaten. They taste really good and I feel like there is only meat inside every pieces. They are not like the sausage of other places which makes me feel like there are a lot of flour inside, and also chemical substances to make the sausage tougher," said a customer named Dang.
These days, the owner of Leon King does not stand on the sidewalk in front of the elementary school anymore. He now has some of his assistants do that in a white small truck, decorated with the logo of his company, which has a picture of him holding a stick of sausage on it.
Along with his wife, Rutt is now working on a project to rebuild an apartment at S53, Ward 3, also on Phan Xich Long Street. They rented the place few months ago and plan to turn it into a restaurant.
Kids will be priority customer at the restaurant, they said. At the moment, they are planning to have a 3D movie theater in the restaurant and a play space for kids, as well as a separate room for adults. He is also planning on making different types of traditional German dishes to serve in the restaurant.
But, Rutt insisted, he will continue to work as a street vendor because he loves the job of serving sausage to Vietnamese people and wants to serve many more of them.
At present, he still stands on the sidewalk right in front of his rented apartment every evening to bake sausages and feels completely satisfied with the job.
He said he hopes more and more people will come and do practical things in Vietnam to help develop the country or just help the people, especially children, to enjoy healthy and helpful services.
"I love Vietnam, I am going to live here until I die."
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