PhinDeli Town Buford: Open for business

Nguyen Dinh Pham greets Chloe Illoway inside PhinDeli Town Buford's sole business, which is a combination of a gas station, coffee shop and convenience store during a grand re-opening celebration Tuesday morning west Cheyenne. About 50 people were on hand to celebrate Pham's purchase of Buford in an auction. Blaine McCartney/staff

BUFORD — The signs are up, the gas is pumping and the coffee is brewing.

This tiny town, famous for its population of one, officially debuted its new brand Tuesday morning with more than 50 from around the area turning out to sample owner Pham Dinh Nguyen's brand of potent Vietnamese coffee, PhinDeli.

Nguyen, who lives in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, bought Buford at auction for $900,000 in April 2012.

On Tuesday, he and former town owner Don Sammons unveiled the newly dubbed “PhinDeli Town Buford,” though Nguyen assured his neighbors that their postal addresses still will bear the town’s original name.

“There was so much excitement and anticipation created by the auction last April. Everyone wanted to know, what next?” Nguyen said. “Today, I have an answer for the world, for the people in the United States, and more importantly, for the community of Buford and the state of Wyoming.”

Nguyen plans for Buford, located 28 miles west of Cheyenne, to become the American hub for PhinDeli-brand coffee. Its name comes from the French filter that is used to brew it.

In Vietnamese, “phin” translates to filter; “deli” is shorthand for delicious.

Vietnam remains the primary market for PhinDeli coffee, which launched there just last month. But Nguyen said he hopes the presence in Wyoming will help him to springboard into the international market as well.

In addition to selling his product in Buford, he intends to market it on, with a long-term goal of breaking into regional and national supermarket chains.

For his part, Sammons plans to keep managing the town’s sole business, a combination gas station, convenience store and now coffee shop.

He has installed an on-site caretaker to handle day-to-day operations, which he will monitor from his home in Loveland, Colo.

“I’ll make sure the regulations are being followed and the tank monitors and so on are taken care of,” Sammons said.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Sammons said Nguyen’s purchase and transformation of the town is a testament to how people can overcome their differences to achieve a common goal.

“It’s so close to me, and to think that Buford now can bring these two nations together,” he said. “I was in Vietnam in ’68 and ’69 under different circumstances, and to know now that 45 years later we’re actually working together and calling each other friends, I just think that’s amazing.”

Lori Hogan with the Wyoming Office of Tourism was on hand for Tuesday’s unveiling. She said PhinDeli’s inclusion in Buford lends the town an international flavor that will help improve its profile along Interstate 80.

“It’s kind of fun for people to stop off and take a break, but also be a part of history,” Hogan said, referring to the town’s 147-year past. “Now that it is international, we’re going to get a lot of exposure in the Asian market especially, and we’ll get a lot of those travelers coming through.”

Nguyen’s spokeswoman, Amy Bates, acknowledged that buying a town may be an unorthodox approach to marketing coffee. But the sheer novelty of the proposition could pay off in the long run, she said, thanks in no small part to the media attention it has gotten both here and in Vietnam.

“Buford got on the world stage when Don Sammons chose to auction it,” Bates said. “And Nguyen is a very smart entrepreneur.

“He said, ‘Yes, I can move to L.A. and start a coffee shop just like everybody else does. Or I can take a completely different approach and leverage word-of-mouth marketing and sampling to drive the retail brand. It’s a very interesting strategy.”

Locals who live near Buford said they are happy to see the town’s sole business reopen. The former Buford Trading Post had been closed for 18 months before reopening in July.

“It is good to see Buford open again,” said Randy Shaw, who lives about five miles north of town. “It’s really neat. It’s nice to see something a little different out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Shaw, along with many of his neighbors, was helping himself to food provided by the Little America hotel. As for the coffee, he said, “It was delicious.”

Alex Kirkpatrick, meanwhile, said “coffee’s coffee” to him, but he is happy the trading post is back in business, primarily for its value as a gathering place.

“We need an area for neighbors to get around and meet each other,” he said. “We’re so spread out, we don’t see one another too often.

“(The Buford Trading Post) used to be that years ago, and we kind of lost it over time. Hopefully, this will regenerate that.”

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