The latest issue of Peach Report analyses how Vietnamese concept Pho has taken the country’s food from the niches to the mainstream. Here are five things we learned from co-founder Stephen Wall
1 Travel broadens the mind
The Pho concept grew out of a backpacking tour of Asia and Latin America by Stephen and Jules Wall, who were soon smitten with the Vietnamese national dish of pho. “It’s like the soul of the nation—a way of life,” says Stephen. Greater travel has increased awareness among UK consumers too, which has helped to raise the profile of Vietnamese and other ethnic cuisines. When Pho was founded ten years ago it seemed exotic; now it is firmly in the mainstream.
2 Growth isn’t always linear
Pho’s expansion has come from some unlikely places. It got investment for its second restaurant from ETM group co-founders Ed and Tom Martin, keen fans of the first in Clerkenwell. Next, Westfield came calling with an invitation to open at Shepherd’s Bush—an unexpected but welcome opportunity. “It proved that we weren’t a niche offering—that we could work in the mass market.” More recently, openings have been supported by private equity group Livingbridge.
3 Fresh and simple works
The simplicity of Pho’s offer, revolving around pho, has worked to its advantage, thinks Wall. “Our proposition is clear and the menu’s not big… we want to do a few things really well, and people appreciate that.” Freshness is key too. “Customers aren’t daft—you can taste food that is pre-packaged these days.”
4 There’s plenty more to come
With Livingbridge capital, Pho has ambitious plans. A restaurant at the Corn Exchange in Manchester will be its 15th, with Birmingham Grand Central to follow. Wall sees the brand reaching about 25 sites in all in a couple of years, with extensions like the Pho to Go takeaway and mobile operations at street festivals important elements too.
5 Founders need to stay true to their brands
The Walls have been intimately involved with Pho through every new opening. That will become harder to do as it grows, but they are determined to carry on. “We’re part of a new breed of founder-led chains that want to maintain their quality and standards. We’re not run by the P&L—we’re run by the focus on a great customer experience. That’s how it’s going to stay.”