Chiem is the founder of Tono Coffee Project, a coffee pop-up and event company he started in 2017.
His first event was at a Love for Butter pop-up in Palo Alto with baker John Shelsta: Chiem provided the coffee and Shelsta, the pastries. The two had connected through mutual friends who often urged each of them to meet the other. Shelsta later introduced Chiem to the owner of Salvaje.
Tono Coffee Project is now serving coffee out of Salvaje at 369 Lytton Ave. in Palo Alto. Photo by Elena Kadvany.
Once Shelsta revived his pop-up at the start of the coronavirus shutdown, the wheels started turning for him and Chiem to work together locally. This means you can now find a selection of Love for Butter pastries when Tono is open at Salvaje at 369 Lytton Ave., Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Salvaje will also start serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., in partnership with Chiem.
Chiem, a Vietnamese-American who was born and raised on the East side of San Jose, has always been drawn to coffee. After jobs in tech and design, he worked in specialty coffee for a time in Hawaii and traveled often, trying coffee throughout Asia.
"Everywhere I've been, coffee's been a space of comfort and a space of community for me," Chiem said.
Before the pandemic, Chiem hosted public and private coffee pop-ups, special events and workshops, as well as a monthly latte art competition and Coffee Palooza, the South Bay's only coffee gathering. He named his company in part after "tonos," the Latin word for "tone."
Chiem sources coffee beans from around the world. He customizes the coffee he serves to the audience, such as sourcing beans from a roaster in Vietnam for an annual Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival in San Jose. He's also teamed up in the past with the Het Say pop-up in East San Jose.
At Salvaje, he's been pulling espresso using beans from the Coffee Collective in Copenhagen. He said he's one of few Bay Area cafes that has the roaster's coffees.
Coffee Collective beans and an oat milk cappuccino at the Tono Coffee pop-up in Palo Alto. Photo by Elena Kadvany.
Tono serves a range of typical espresso drinks — americano, cortado, cappuccino, flat white, latte — and welcomes special requests. Chiem also sells whole beans, Oatly oat milk and chocolate bars and cacao powder from Marou, a single-origin chocolate maker in Vietnam. (You can also opt to add the cacao powder to any coffee drink.)
Customers can order drinks online in advance and pick up at the window or use Venmo to pay in person; no cash payments are allowed. Customers must wear a mask to be served.