The Business Times
Epicure by : Tan Su Yen
June 23rd, 2000
More noodles are coming your way, this time from Pho Hoa, a restaurant group based in California. Tan Su Yen has the details.
First we had Nooch, then Gu and Stix, and soon we'll be saying mee in Vietnamese when Pho Hoa, a California based Vietnamese noodle restaurant group sets up shop in Singapore.
Long a well loved staple throughout Asia, steaming hot noodle dishes are slowly moving off the street into the stylish comfort of noodle bars alongside power juices and designer coffees. Adding Vietnamese noodles to the mix of wholesome flavors and business opportunities, Pho Hoa (pronounced "fuh hoa") will open its first outlet in Holland Village this August.
Through its master franchisee, Pho Hoa aims to set up a total of 10 outlets in Singapore in the next five years. And that's not all.
Says James Danuwidjaja, managing director, Pho Hoa Asia Pacific Pte Ltd "Singapore will serve as the regional hub from which we control procurement, logistics, marketing and training for our Asian markets. More importantly, Singapore will be the launching pad from which we venture into new frontiers like China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Pho Hoa hopes to set up a total of over 100 outlets throughout Asia over the next five years. Mr. Danuwidjaja concedes that as a market, Singapore is not "particularly" large, but the city's infrastructure makes it the ideal headquarters, especially since the group has hopes of listing Pho Hoa on the Singapore stock exchange in five years or so.
With 46 outlets in North America and 28 in Asia, mostly in Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, Pho Hoa's management is adept at explaining its concept to the uninitiated.
Says Mr. Danuwidjaja: "We like to think of Pho Hoa as being the noodle equivalent of pizza. You decide on your noodles, then pick different toppings as you like."
To demonstrate Mr. Danuwidjaja's point, the North American version of Pho Hoa's menu comes with a handy illustrated glossary of ingredients commonly used in Vietnamese noodles like sweet basil, green chili, scallions, beef tendon and brisket.
All very well in North America, where ethnic cuisine may sell on its novelty value, but what are Pho Hoa's prospects in a city where a bowl of noodles is available on just about every street corner?
Says Mr. Danuwidjaja: "I understand that Vietnamese food hasn't always fared well in Singapore. But I feel that the time is nowright for Vietnamese food - there are at least five Vietnamese noodles outlets in town, and while some of them are decidedly no-frills affairs, they are doing well. Given our experience, I'm sure we can do just as well, if not better."
At the heart of Pho Hoa's appeal, says Mr. Danuwidjaja, will be its "value-for-money" concept. At $8 for a large bowl of noodles and $6 for a "regular", Mr. Danuwidjaja promises that portions will be huge and that Pho Hoa "won't be stingy about the beef" used in its signature beef noodles.
For non-beef eaters, Pho Hoa will also offer chicken and seafood noodle soups as well as rice dishes like Grilled Chicken Rice and Grilled Pork Chop Rice.
Established in San Jose, California, in 1985, Pho Hoa's success is largely due to the labours of a Vietnamese refugee made good - Binh Hguyen, founder and president of Pho Hoa, now North America's largest Vietnamese quick service restaurant chain.
Arriving in New York as a refugee in the late '70's, Mr. Nguyen read political science at Columbia University. But he was preoccupied with the idea of raising funds quickly to help his family leave Vietnam and join him in the US.
As a short-term money making venture, he and a fellow Vietnamese-American set up Pho Hoa's first outlet with the help of a loan from the US government's Small Business Administration.
Pho Hoa quickly became an enormous success, first within the Vietnamese community, then with other Asian Americans and eventually with mainstream Americans and Canadians. Mr Nguyen raised enough money to have his parents join him, and the rest, as they say, is Pho Hoa's corporate history.