Vietnamese food has an international reputation for its balanced flavours and unique ingredients. Everyone who is lucky enough to taste it for themselves typically fall in love with the culinary treasures. No one knows this better than Robert Costabile, owner and founder of Nha Trang’s exceptionally popular landmark restaurant Lanterns. Located on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street, the restaurant enjoys long line ups each night full of both eager new and regular customers waiting for their chance to savour the offering of one of Nha Trang’s most acclaimed restaurants.
Specializing in Vietnamese food since its conception in 2008, Lanterns started as a way for Mr. Robert to fund his charitable work and community building within the local orphanages and beyond. The restaurant was an instant hit and has steadily grown each month and each successive year to the point that it has become a staple of the community and easily one of the most famous and popular restaurants in Nha Trang. But the story is far more interesting and complex than this, and we must go back to the beginning to find out just what lead to this tremendous success.
Robert is an Italian-Australian who first came to visit Vietnam on a whim as a young adult. Like many, he instantly fell in love with the country. While some may fall for the scenery and natural beauty, it was the people of Vietnam as he describes it that left a profound impression on him. The atmosphere and genuine kindness of the people altered his perspective on life and he as he explains: the ‘happiness was intoxicating’. The following year he decided to return to experience the true culture of the country that tourists typically overlook and asked a local tour guide in Nha Trang to take him to local schools and orphanages. The visits left an indelible mark on Robert’s psyche and he decided to take 2 months leave from his job as part owner of a successful accounting and financial consultant business in Australia to stay in Nha Trang to live within a local orphanage, helping out wherever possible. Here is where the story of Lanterns begins. The stay had such a profound impact and he developed such a strong emotional attachment to the children of the orphanage that he made the life defining decision to bow out of his job back home and open a restaurant with some local friends he had met.
As stated earlier, the restaurant was a means to fund development and sustainability projects for the local orphanages and was expected to make modest earnings to maintain these efforts. Word however spread fast across town that a new restaurant was serving delicious Vietnamese dishes at an affordable price that was accessible to both locals and tourists. Perhaps equal parts luck and hard work, Robert was able to have all the right people working alongside him. A strong culture and mission statement was established early on and the successful business model flourished. Not one to boast or brag, Robert has been very clear that none of this success would be possible without his strong and devoted team and managers such as Ms. Nam. Perhaps most important of all has been his partner and confidant Ms. Hien who, according to Robert, took the business and charitable efforts to another level. Thanks to Ms. Hien’s efforts and ability to build and sustain rapport and relationships with the organizers and children of the orphanages, there is more cohesion and genuine cooperation between the two parties than ever before.
With all this success however, the thing that Robert states he is most proud of is the opportunity his restaurant has provided for the orphan children of Khanh Hoa. One of the first children he met at the first orphanage was an 11 year old boy who grew up to now be a head bartender at Lanterns while another boy from the same orphanage is the head chef of Robert’s other successful local restaurant BBQ Un In. Focusing both on the individual and overall needs of those most requiring aid has helped bring fulfillment to Robert and Hien as well as the countless people they continue to help every day. Equal parts beauty and brawn, the dynamic duo have successfully managed to positively impact their community and provide school fees and food for 13 orphanages in Khanh Hoa Province, all the while maintaining one of the most successful and popular restaurants in the city. Now that is an admirable success story.