Building a Global Pho-nomenon

Ly Qui Trung brought the popular street food, pho, to a restaurant setting with the first Pho24 outlet in Ho Chi Minh City.
Ly Qui Trung brought the popular street food, pho, to a restaurant setting with the first Pho24 outlet in Ho Chi Minh City.

NEW YORK, March, 20, 2009 – Flocking to street vendors to indulge in a bowl of pho is a daily ritual in Vietnam. This Vietnamese staple, pronounced ‘fuh’, is at the core of Nam An Group's CEO and Founder Dr. Ly Qui Trung's enterprise. The Vietnamese entrepreneur was so inspired by the love of pho (a concoction of fresh rice noodles soaked in hot flavorful broth, thin cuts of seasoned beef and a variety of garnishes like coriander, thai basil and lime) in Australia that he decided to add a pho chain to his F&B business. In June 2003, he brought the popular street food to a restaurant setting with the first Pho24 outlet on Nyuyen Thiep Street in Ho Chi Minh City. There are now 68 Pho24 restaurants in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, Cambodia and Australia.

At a recent CEO forum at Asia Society’s headquarters in New York City, Trung spoke to Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Simon S.C. Tay, about entrepreneurship, and building Pho24 into a global brand.

According to Trung, the current Pho24 presence in Asia is a good market test for his planned expansion in China and the US. He calls this the “In - Out” market approach. The author of Vietnam’s “franchising bible,” Trung was not only the first to successfully offer pho away from street noise and passersby, but he also pioneered the concept of delivery in Vietnam. These successes, however, do not come without a substantial share of challenges. One big challenge is standardizing the recipe for a dish that has several regional variations. A bigger challenge is protecting intellectual property rights in Vietnam.

The scarcity of intellectual property right protection is notably one of the major impediments to development at a time when entrepreneurship is growing in Vietnam. Entrepreneurship has long been regarded as a second-tier profession in the country; however, the youth are becoming increasingly focused on setting up businesses. This opens up possibilities of investment in Vietnam. Trung explained that while the government is making progress in establishing more reforms, it needs to act faster to protect and retain the young entrepreneurs of the country.

Trung expressed hope for the future of his country and believes that his food venture is a way of bringing Vietnam closer to the rest of the world. The Asia Society, in recognition of the growing Vietnamese economy, is holding its 19th Annual Asian Corporate Conference in Ho Chi Minh City in April

With planned expansions of his chain in New York City, it is only a matter of time before Americans, too, discover the Vietnamese Pho-nomenon.

Reported by Chandani Punia