BackEat & Drink » Saigon Hẻm Gems » Hẻm Gems: A Haven for Rescued Dogs, Healthy Eats, and Adoption Opportunities

Hẻm Gems: A Haven for Rescued Dogs, Healthy Eats, and Adoption Opportunities

For dogs, dog owners and general fans of man's best friend, living in Saigon can be tough.

Many apartment complexes ban pups outright, while others make life difficult through onerous regulations. Living in a house is better, but there are still serious concerns such as theft, poisonings and combative anti-dog people. Even parks and open spaces for humans are largely an afterthought here, so outdoor facilities for canines are practically non-existent.

Enter District 2's R House, a "healthy diner and lounge" that also houses dogs from a rescue shelter that are ready for adoption. Run by Geneva Marcelino, Alexander Ward and Thien Hoang Nguyen (who goes by Jay), the open-air restaurant is perfect for anyone looking for a dog, a spot where their fur babies can play with other dogs, or who wants to just be around the lovely animals.

From left to right: Jay, Marcelino and Ward.

R House's genesis dates to 2019, when Marcelino and Ward moved to Saigon from the Philippines. "We really wanted to get a dog, and as we were house hunting we went to a shelter in Binh Chanh District and were lucky to find a great match," Ward said. "But it's tough because when you go there are 50, 60 or 70 dogs and they all get let out at the same time, so it's chaotic."

The dog they adopted was very well-behaved and fully trained, so the couple decided to create an environment where people could interact with dogs that are ready for adoption outside of the shelter. 

At the same time, Marcelino created Pawfect Match SGN, which aims to match people who want to adopt with the right dog. "You're not a match with every dog," she explained. "For example, we were looking at one dog at the shelter, but it just wasn't a fit, and he ended up matching with someone else."

Dogs at R House.

Last September, Marcelino and Ward proposed a dedicated location to friends, initially under the name Rescue Cafe. "The idea was not just to socialize the dogs, as they are already trained at the shelter, but to teach them to be more comfortable with other humans, rather than just the ones taking care of them," Marcelino said.

"There are the rescuers and rehabilitators, that's step one, then there are forever homes, which is step three, and we found a sweet spot in between where we can help dogs realize that many humans are good to them, so they are taught to receive love, and we can also see if there are any issues with individual dogs."

Flash forward to today, and the restaurant is called R House, while Jay has also joined the team, which opened up the avenue of better communicating with the Vietnamese community.

"When we make posts in Vietnamese on Facebook they get more engagement, and there are some influencers who have come, and their posts get thousands of likes and hundreds of comments," Ward said.

R House's resident barfly.

This has paid off handsomely, as initially, the team estimated that up to 90% of their customers were foreigners, whereas now it's an even split. In fact, Vietnamese customers are among the most generous and kindest towards the dogs.

"I think there's misconception that's very unfair that Vietnamese don't know how to love dogs," Marcelino said. "So it's nice to see that Vietnamese are actually the ones who buy all the dog treats."

Dog treats and other goodies for sale.

There is also a Vietnamese family which comes every week with two kilograms of cooked chicken to give to the dogs.

This highlights the double-sided success of R House: not only do rescued dogs get to interact with more people, but people get to interact with dogs in a safe, controlled environment. Ward and Marcelino have seen the impact that exposing people to well-behaved dogs can have in their own neighborhood.

"We have our German shepherd [seen in the top image] and another large dog, and at first our neighbors messaged our landlord about the foreign couple with the 'huge dangerous dog'," Ward recalled. "So we made a bilingual post and said we'd like to introduce them to your family if you are nervous, and it changed from parents calling our landlord about this big dog to all of the kids running out and saying 'Rambo!' and wanting to take him for a walk. The parents trust us now because we took the approach of recognizing that they may have felt uncomfortable."

The verdant dining area. Photo by Michael Tatarski.

Dog owners in the city have surely experienced people on the street reacting with fear to their pets. My partner and I have three dogs, one of whom weighs under five kilograms, yet people have jumped away in terror before. The team at R House, however, has seen how people can change in the right circumstances.

"Yesterday there was a woman who said she was scared of dogs because she got bitten when she was young," Jay shared. "And then, she ended up petting the two new puppies and one of our smaller dogs."

Thus far, 10 dogs have been adopted through R House, and their photos line one wall in the bright, airy space. Seven dogs currently live at the restaurant, plus two puppies found in a forest, and they are each described in a print-out that notes personality traits and quirks, as well as their levels of training.

The dogs that have either been adopted, or are available for adoption.

"Each dog has its own personality and dynamic, and they're able to be themselves at R House," Ward said. "Some dogs, they just want to sit in the corner for the first month or two, and then by the time they're ready for adoption, they're running around and very approachable. That's not a transformation you're able to get at the shelter."

In addition to the dog rescue aspect, Marcelino, Ward and Jay also focus on sustainability and reuse as well as healthy eating: all dishes on the menu are vegan or vegetarian, almost all of the furniture is second-hand, while plant waste is composted.  

"R House means to rescue what you can, not just the dogs," Marcelino shared. "Rescue, repurpose, reuse — we want to do that across the board."

Of course, the dogs will be a draw for many, and I highly recommend that any dog owner wanting to give their pets a place to play check out R House. We brought our three dogs there for dinner last week, and they had a blast playing. The staff is great, and the space is secure, so you don't have to worry about anyone escaping. (Also, no free ads, but if you're worried about Grab drivers turning dogs away, you should check out the "Vcar" option on the Vinasun app. We've used it twice and the drivers have had no problem with pets)

The food is great too, and there's a wide range of wine and local craft beer available as well. Dogs, friends, good food and drink — what more do you need?

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 4/5

Atmosphere: 100/5, — because dogs.

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 3/5 — the address is a bit tricky.

Michael has almost no sense of smell and was an on-screen extra in Jurassic World. You can usually find him with a craft beer in hand.

R House

Street 63-AP, Van Minh Residential Area, D2


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