Highlands Coffee is a Vietnamese coffee shop chain and producer and distributor of coffee products, established in Hanoi by Vietnamese American David Thai in 1998. The founding of the Highlands Coffee company marked the first time an Overseas Vietnamese was able to register a private company within Vietnam. As of 2009, the company operated 80 coffee shops in six cities and provinces across Vietnam. In 2011, Highlands Coffee purchased the pho chain Phở 24 from Lý Quí Trung for an estimated 20 million USD. The next year, Highlands sold 50% of its shares to the Philippine multinational chain Jollibee for 25 million USD.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, David Thai, the company's founder, witnessed the rise of the Starbucks coffee chain from a small company in his hometown of Seattle to a multinational corporation. He later cited this as the inspiration behind the founding of Highlands Coffee, which first began operation in Hanoi in 1998. The company's initial registration marked the first time an Overseas Vietnamese was able to register a private company of any kind in Vietnam. Two years later, in 2000, the company was registered as a joint stock company, again a first for an Overseas Vietnamese.
At the time of its foundation, Highlands limited itself to producing packaged coffee, to be sold through supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, and cafés. It was four years later, in 2002, that the first Highlands Coffee coffee shop was established, across from Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City. As of 2009, the company operated 80 coffee shops in six cities and provinces across Vietnam: Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Vũng Tàu and Đồng Nai.
As of May 2010 the company offered 5 blended roast and ground and whole bean coffees (Heritage Blend, Traditional Blend, Gourmet Blend, Moka Blend, Culi Supreme), and 4 espressos in ground and whole bean (Full City Roast, Arabica Supreme, a water-process DeCaf espresso produced at their in-house water process decaffeination facility, and Cinnamon Roast espresso). The espresso line also included ESE-compatible 45mm espresso pods packaged in Malaysia. In December 2009 the company introduced a Ready-To-Drink (RTD) "Iced Coffee" in an 8-ounce can, in two versions, one labeled "with Milk" and the other labeled "Black". By May 2010 the company stated that the RTD product had been distributed to more than 17 Asian countries and the USA.
In 2011, Highlands Coffee purchased the pho chain Phở 24 from Lý Quí Trung for an estimated 20 million USD. The next year, Highlands sold 50% of its shares to Jollibee Worldwide for 25 million USD.
Highlands Coffee is a registered brand of Viet Thai International Joint Stock Company. Besides ownership of the Highlands Coffee brand, Viet Thai also owns sole franchising rights in Vietnam for several major international brands such as Nike, Aldo Shoes, La Vie en Rose lingerie, and Hard Rock Cafe. The company also operates restaurants and cafeterias in Vietnam, and caters to the local headquarters of Intel Corporation. Executive staff include recruits from such companies as Coca-Cola and Starbucks.
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